The Art of Noise

Gavin McNett reviews "Art of Noise: The Drum And Bass Collection".

Published February 15, 1997 8:00PM (EST)

whatever sort of bemused optimism the music mags might still be lining their pages with, the truth is that a lot of critics have had their composure slipping down around their ankles since last spring when the second Hootie and the Blowfish album coughed a hairball. There's been naught but tears, worry, and trepidation ladled unto them -- unto us -- ever since.

The tears weren't for Hootie, God knows. When the news hit of Fairweather Johnson's chucking a dummy, it was like opening your door to find a Jehovah's Witness, stiff in death, clinging to the knocker. After the shock wore off, one's natural inclination was just to shoulder the door closed again and to giggle with Fate at the splendid round of cards she'd shuffled up.

But then later, when the fusillade of dummies that was the rest of the year's crop of big, boffo rock records began to fly, fear rose like a siren. Bald, red, Charleston-dancing fear, the panic of the buggy-whip purveyor, of the vacuum-tube mogul. "We might," shrugged cipher-faced label folks, "be seeing the end of guitar-rock." "We might," intoned platoons of rockcrits sweating in their beds, "have to start writing seriously about techno."

And that's a place where nobody's raring to go. There hasn't yet been any real critical apparatus set up to deal with the new electronic music, and all the old H|sker D|-heads who write record reviews these days, c'est moi aussi, are mighty intimidated by the prospect of saying something that'll mark us as reactionary sticks-in-the-mud. We're repectful, even reverent. We figure that if something doesn't quite gel with us, it's probably our failing.

Yeah, well. After a few months of that, the new Art Of Noise remix compilation's boast that "THIS ALBUM MARKS THE ERADICATION OF ROCK AND ROLL FROM THE FACE OF THE PLANET" reads kinda like "Come Get Me, Copper!"

The collection actually has precious little to do with The Art Of Noise. None of the tracks bears significant resemblance to the Art of Noise song that it's supposed to be, and few of them even have any identifiable Art Of Noise samples. And it's not strictly drum 'n' bass: There are a lot of jungle rudiments scattered through it -- which is both good and bad. On the one hand, drum 'n' bass often suffers from such a rigid compositional framework (near-identical instrumentation, identically-identical subsonic bass woofs, 2-second-maximum loop time) that any stylistic hiccup can be a good thing. On the other, when jungle's off-signature rhythm fragmentations aren't done artfully, it just sounds like there's a monkey fucking with the sequencer. "Break beat terrorist" Seiji is especially bad that way, but nobody else does a sterling job of it, either.

Worse, only ILS, Lightfoot, PLM, and Digital Pariah seem to be able to play a console at all. Most of the artists here limit themselves to doing MIDI fades and effects, doing no spatial ordering or notching to speak of, and doing nothing in real-time but click solo buttons. It's that sort of thing that separates the mix artist from the dabbling club-shmoo, and in the last analysis, it's only these four whose tracks are able to rise above the stifling, mediocratic, club-shmoo conformity that drags down the rest of this weakish, fake Art Of Noise tribute.

By Gavin McNett

Gavin McNett is a frequent contributor to Salon.

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