Pet gripe: Hip hop fans dj'ing UK Garage. Spent last weekend in Brisbane and managed to check out the local garage night up there. Despite a couple of excellent (if obvious) tracks like Artful Dodger's mix of "Thong Song", the dub mix of MJ Cole's "Sincere", Zed Bias' "Neighbourhood" and N&G's "Right Before My Eyes", the night was somewhat disappointing.
There was a couple of things wrong; for one, the music was too loud. Even when dancing the beats hurt my ears, and trying to have a conversation was useless. More generally worrying though was the tone of the mix in general, which leant overly towards the breakaway sound Simon Reynolds calls "breakbeat garage". Now, I don't have a problem with that sound in general; in fact it's producing a lot of the best garage around. Artists like Stanton Warriors, Zed Bias and The Wideboys are making absolutely excellent tracks that revive the looped breaks sound of rave, only intensified with post-Timbaland twitch, not to mention those boneshaking basslines.
The problem is more that as a separate genre it doesn't really work. Sure, play a good breakbeat garage track after an Artful Dodger tune and it goes down a treat, but five, six songs in a row? The sound's rough sparseness becomes oppressive, harsh and interminably boring, on par with the worst of current drum & bass (Reynolds ignores the good use of dynamics and acid tomfoolery in similar style nu skool breakz, but slow down a track by one of jungle's lesser lights like Konflict, Skynet or Cause 4 Concern and you've got a typical crappy breakbeat garage track).
Closely linked to this emergent sound is the rave nostalgia infecting the scene. The increasing amount of rave-style tracks neither excites nor worries me, as their quality seems entirely dependent on contingent elements. The remake of "Let Me Be Your Fantasy" is lurvely, largely because it is still very much in the usual garage mould: shimmery female vocals and dewdrop chord progressions.
Mix rave and breakbeat garage though and you can often run into problems. Chiefly, most of the producers working in that populist interzone (eg. DJ Dee Kline) are poor producers/programmers, rendering their work vastly inferior to the original rave tracks they're paying homage to, particularly in the breakbeat department. Furthermore, garage runs at a slower tempo than hardcore techno, so what you're getting is a curiously stunted kind of hardcore, full of rave's cheese but with none of its rush.
With a good garage dj, this isn't going to be a problem. In moderation, mixed in with more house or R&B derived garage, this breakbeat sound is the business (plus the dj is likely to play only quality tracks). But beware the dj who has jumped into garage only as a result of this subgenre's emergence, and would never have dared to join in when it was considered merely a new type of house music. He (I use the pronoun advisedly) has probably tried making his name in hip hop, jungle or nu skool breakz (all very masculine scenes), and is now congratulating himself for being canny enough to be on the new bus from the word go.
He hates tracks with female vocalists (they're "girlish" or "cheesy") but loves the novelty tracks based on tv theme tunes, or rave homages if they've got MC's chanting all over them. He likes to scratch unnecessarily, because he once won a hip hop dj competition in his home town and wants people to know that mixing is an artform. Etc. Etc. ad nauseum. Watch out I say, 'cos he can ruin a perfectly good evening.
Another thing: like breakbeat garage, ragga chants and MCs can be excellent if used in moderation, but on track after track it causes similar problems. After all, if you want to hear hip hop or dancehall, there are more than enough clubs providing them. Not to mention the huge variation in quality, from the good good good (Richie Dan's sentimental "Call It Fate" to Oxide & Neutrino's awfully repetitive "Bound 4 Da Reload") And none of the MCs have nice enough voices that they sound good with the volume too high.
Sorry to be griping, but it just annoys me that a style as vibrant as UK Garage can be so poorly represented by its DJs. Especially in Australia where each major city has only one or two clubs playing the stuff once a week, such figures have the potential to suffocate the scene locally.
Josh mentions Photek a lot, and each time I think to myself "Dang, Josh, have you checked out Source Direct yet?" I have Photek's Modus Operandi album and it always fell into the "good but not excellent" camp for me, as a lot of drum & bass albums tend to do. Oh, there's "JKZ" with its "yes indeed, this is the most whacked out jazz you've ever heard" drum programming, or the generally pleasing Detroitisms of "Aleph 1", and "The Hidden Camera" is a classic, but on the whole I've always been slightly underwhelmed (that said, I love quite a few non-album tracks: "Ni Ten Ichi Ryu", "The Water Margin" and "Rings Around Saturn").
Why? Probably because on the whole Photek's moroseness rarely translates into anything particularly compelling. His music is mysterious and paranoid, but it doesn't really pick you up and shake you by your collar. Which Source Direct always did in abundance. I'm thinking in particular of their Controlled Developments ep, which has six uniformly excellent tracks. Source Direct's style (full drumkit improvisation, sickly bass tones, grotesque samples and weird synth sounds) is incredibly similar to Photek's, only generally without most of the jazz leanings. But what they lose in jazz they more than make up for in their hard raviness, Hammer Horror goulishness and general robotc neuroses. "Computer State" and "Enemy Lines" are some of the scariest tracks I've heard, despite being relatively restrained in jungle terms.
The track though that rendered Photek irrelevant altogether was Hidden Agenda's "Dispatch #2: a thrilling combination of rigid techstep with more cinematic drum & bass, which can be found on the second Metalheadz Platinum Breakz compilation, and is one of my favourite jungle tracks ever. That said, I am looking forward to hearing Photek's new album Solaris, half of which is apparently house tunes! Perhaps this will be what will convert Josh to house then... .
I've been listening a lot to this great '98 house track by a guy called Aaron Hall called "Down". It's more lewd than you'd guess. A guy who I presume to be Aaron whispers seductively over a brutal bass backing track, "I want to go down on you if it's the last thing that I do... I want to drive your body crazy, make you scream just like a lady. We cannot make babies, but we can have FUN." With its crushing beat and dred bass riffs, it's like one of Armand Van Helden's harder moments, only the type of hardness being evoked here is one Armand would shy right away from.
It's always great to find house tracks like these, because they're a powerful reminder of what so often distinguishes the best dance music: that hint of danger and corruption. The first big house tracks from 86-87 (eg. "Love Can't Turn Around") all encapsulated the seedy pleasure of the black gay subculture that treasured them - joyous, religious, but also impossibly dirty and profane. When acid house took over, and especially when it broke in the UK, the danger being evoked was a more general feeling of energy-overload induced panic - the siren-like acid burbles and especially the ominous intoned vocals, used to best effect on Bam Bam's "Where's Your Child": "Curfew! Curfew!... No-one likes to be alone."
The danger element has been captured at various moments throughout dance music's subsequent history: darkcore's woozy fear; jungle's unstable paranoia; the doomladen basslines of early speed garage; the dark rush that characterises the best big beat. It's far from being the only quality within dance music, or even the main one, but it certainly keeps me coming back for more.
Incidentally, "Down" can be found on Richard Fearless's mix for the Live At The Social Volume III compilation, which also includes tasty dives into techno, electro and deep house. For a great summation of acid house, check out Hardfloor's X-Mix compilation, Jack The Box.
Star Chamber Associate Gruf has discovered a treasure chest of hardcore, darkcore and jungle MP3s. Head on over and discover the music that was the future.
Personal recommendations? Well I haven't had a chance to sample this extensively, but I know full well already that you need Jo's "R-Type", Nasty Habits' "Dark Angel", Omni Trio's "Strong Enough", Blame's mix of Justice's "Soothe My Soul", Peshay's "The Vocal Tune" and (gulp) the entirity of 4 Hero's Parallel Universe album... Nearly all of which are incredibly hard to find. Go mad.
I can really see this taking off actually. "I'll match your Adrienne Rich with a Judith Butler! By the powers of gender performativity vested within me I pronounce thee a false woman!" "Argh! You've won again." etc. etc.
Jungle's not undergoing a "creative revival" so much as a populist capitulation, href="http://www.crosswinds.net/~norfolkwindmills/new0009.html#0004a">Gareth. Basically every single "cheesy" aspect of the music's various incarnations over the last eight years is being radically reincarnated. Mentasms, rave stabs, ragga chants, dub basslines, amens, breakdowns, vocal anthems etc. etc. etc.
It's not necessarily a good thing, but I took Matt out to Soulaar at The Lounge on Thursday night and even he had a good time, despite not really having danced to anything except commercial house before. Actually he liked the really hard stuff with Shy FX-style mad bongos, which surprised me greatly, though the same thing happened the last time I took out a novice friend.
I could say that I enjoy jungle now because unlike even just a couple of months ago, there is now an enormous variety in the types of tracks you'll hear, from straight two-step rollers to crazy amen mashes. On Thursday they even played a totally whacked out dub number with weird, asymmetrical and echoey breaks that confused everyone. Naturally I loved it. However the truth is that I'll always enjoy jungle no matter what state it's in because, much like house, it has become to me something of a staple dance music ingredient to me. I need to dance to sped up breakbeats and impacting basslines every so often or I feel weird. It doesn't matter whether the scene is really healthy or on death's door.
If you're interested though, here's a webpage where heaps of jungle fans debate over the present state and future of the music. If you're acquainted with the scene some of it can be thought provoking stuff.
How can you meaningfully express the pain of losing someone? How can you face it, understand it, articulate it? Well, maybe you can't. But there should be more poetry in the act of failing. I'll miss you, Joan. What else is there to say but that?
"And every day you gaze upon the sunset with such love and intensity
it's almost...it's almost as if if you could only crack the code
then you'd finally understand what this all means
but if you could...do you think you would trade in all this pain and suffering?
ah, but then you'd miss the beauty of the light upon this earth
Listening to the first five tracks of Radiohead's new album, Kid A (that's all I've - gasp! - downloaded so far) I notice intensely the way that Napster technology distorts my traditional experience of music. The enormous hype and expectation building around this still unreleased record hold no meaning here; there's been no financial or emotional investment yet, no bizarre album cover to stare at, no lyrics to scrutanize, no weight of popular opinion telling me this release is monumental/disappointing. With Radiohead perhaps more than any other band, this lack of context is bizarre, and liberating.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that I lost my copy of OK Computer about two years ago, and never got around to replacing it (why bother, when there's always so much new music to discover? I really liked that album - loved it even, when I first got it - but now I can only rely on a fading memory of its quality, and certainly any "attachment" I might have had to it clearly no longer exists, or else I would have repurchased it long since.
Still, Radiohead are a band who usually demand a large reaction - either hosannas to the hills or vicious attack - and so my strangely muted reaction to this music surprises me. It's not that I don't like it. In fact, I think it's pretty excellent; a totally textural work whose aural attractions can be appreciated largely separate from the socio-cultural discourse surrounding their work ever since OK Computer. "How To Disappear Completely..." in particular is a gorgeous piece of music in and of itself (one thing that came to annoy me subsequent to loving OK Computer was the way in which critics/fans had to reference the band's "vision", and the implicit suggestion that this rendered them superior to bands with similar or greater musical ambitions ie. Bark Psychosis.).
No, my reaction is muted in that I can't attach myself to it as the work of the band Radiohead. I can't even really think of it as an album (though that may change). Rather, it's just ephemeral music floating out of my computer speakers, with no implied value other than that which I give it as I receive it. There's no sense in which I'm listening to this more closely or carefully than any other mp3s I've downloaded - no sense in which this first experience is important in any way. If I'd heard this music only in the context of having bought Kid A from a shop, the experience would doubtless be quite different.
I most often use Napster (or should I say, Macster) to download pop/hip hop/r&b/garage tracks (ie. music which is very comfortable within the singles format) rather than fuller bodies of work by established artists within "serious" mediums. I guess, despite my staunch defence of them, I still see all those musics as being ephemeral, of the moment, and hence eminently suited to the solipsistic isolation of the mp3 format.
It may be that the distinction between pop-music and the more worthy, considered album-format music (eg. Radiohead) is an artificial construct, which deliberately preferencing certain music as Napster-able actually seeks to maintain. Whether de(con)structing these assumptions about music is a positive or a negative thing is so far unclear to me. I suppose it might become clearer when I have more certain opinions about the Radiohead album.
On the other hand, not all pop is stuffed. In fact I think my appreciation for pop is at a high water mark, at least in terms of the ratio of songs I like to those I don't. I even like the sickeningly saccharine "Reach" by S Club 7! (It's all in 'dem drums, baby)
There's too many likable pop songs in the charts right now to list. Well, okay: "Life Is A Rollercoaster", "Try Again", "Lucky", "Jumpin' Jumpin'", "I Think I'm In Love With You", "Fill Me In", "Most Girls", "Sing Along", "Faded" (by some American band whose name I forget - Soul Decision maybe? Anyway, think straightahead whiteboy pop-rock, only produced by Stardust... weird), "Groovejet", "Out Of Your Mind", and various others that I can't remember right now. My favourite pop moment at the moment is the slamming bass bridge in Britney's "Lucky", with her arch-nasal "oh, oh, o-o-oh" on top. So over the top! So brilliant!
And just on the controversial "Groovejet" by Spiller, I'd say what makes this track good is not the disco guitar or the Moloko resemblance or Sophie Ellis-Baker's "am I using an accent or not?" singing, but rather the delicate nuances of the four-four beat, which springs and topples about like nobody's business. Which makes it the most interesting straightahead commercial disco house since Groove Armada's "If Everybody Looked The Same". I'm sure I'm going to get very tired of it, but perhaps the secret is not to get overly excited, as happened in the UK. It ain't the single of the year, but for now at least it goes down very smoothly indeed.
Pop Tim emphatically does not like: Christina Aguilera's "I Turn To You"; Mel C's "I Turn To You"; anything by Leah Haywood; anything by Vanessa Amorosi; anything by Sister 2 Sister; anything by Girl Thing; anything by Jennifer Lopez; anything by 98 Degrees; anything by Coco Lee; anything by Westlife (a favourite of the guy I'm seeing...I guess no one's perfect); anything featuring Spanish lyrics, a Spanish guitar, the word "Spanish" anywhere, someone (pretending to be) Spanish, Santana, or any combination of the above; duets; anything sung by people under age of sixteen.
Perhaps she did go too far. Maybe the world just wasn't ready for IndieKylie(TM), for Manic Street Preachers songs, "serious" lyrics and sub-jungle beats. Maybe she should have just realised that "Confide In Me" was a peak, and quit then and there. But surely even Impossible Princess's biggest critics would prefer that to her subsequent nosedive. Meet Kylie Minogue, this year's model: DanniiKylie.
Indeed, even more than the bland house of "Spinning Around", "On A Night Like This" confirms that Kylie's forthcoming album Light Years will reveal that she's finally arrived at the state her younger sister reached three years ago. Having exhausted all chances of creating a personality, she's going to co-opt any sound that has a chance of hitting the charts despite bland songwriting. Hence, single two is insipid trance on the order of Mel C's "I Turn To You", only, er, not as anthemic. Kylie's next single really should be a garage track, only she's not as savvy as Posh Spice.
Anyway, I'd pretty much be able to forgive this if it was even as good as Fragma's "Toca's Miracle" (which I strangely like more and more each time I hear it), but the sad fact is that I can't even remember the tune now it's not on. The problem with Kylie trying to resurrect the age of her golden run of singles ("Better The Devil You Know", "Step Back In Time", "Shocked" and "What Do I Have To Do?") is that the songs really only seem particularly good through the haze of fond nostalgia. Valorising them only worked in the context of how different Kylie was a couple of years ago
If they do have some value, it's because their fusion of cheesy pop with the era's skippy drum machine house was at the time peerless. But now Kylie's jumping on styles that are already in decline, and so any attempts at relevance is going to be even less convincing than Madonna trying to pretend to America that she invented Daft Punk. At least Madonna's got good producers.
What really annoys me about Kylie's desperate bid for chart success is that the songs she made just after Impossible Princess - "Free", "Take Me With You" - were the best of her career: appealing, idiosyncratic and lusciously produced. Light Years had the potential to be fantastic, and instead it's shaping up to be one of the most cringeworthy releases this year.
So I picked up Craig David's album, Born To Do It. It's, er, very R&B! Considering that the album was co-written and produced by Mark Hill from The Artful Dodger, it's somewhat surprising that, apart from the obligatory inclusion of "Rewind", "Fill Me In" is the only track that has anything even remotely resembling a garage beat. As an R&B album it's great, despite a strange tendency towards acoustic padding. The three distinguishing factors here are the exquisitely detailed rhythm arrangements, the strong, idiosyncratic songwriting and Craig's deliciously smooth vocals. Still, the whole affair is a bit "safe" I guess, which is a bit dissapointing seeing as "Fill Me In" was such a brilliant opening salvo.
I'm gonna write a full review I think, but for the mean time rest assured that it is indeed deserving of purchase.
Gareth talks about trance, and very interestingly too, eventually drawing it into a general discussion of how all dance musics inevitably divide into the sell-out and the impenetrable.
Personally, I think the problem with the deliberate austerity of late-period techno and jungle is not so much the grim cheeselessness of the music so much as the self-consciousness which dictates how that grim cheeslessness is expressed, and what rules control it. Both scenes had been making serious, commercially unviable and outsider-unfriendly music from their inception.
Where both scenes eventually got it wrong was by actually coming to some firm idea of what the ideal serious, unfriendly (and yet, within the scene, deserving of anthem-status) music was. In the case of jungle, you can point to a couple of tracks: Jonny L's "Piper", Dillinja's "Acid Track", Krust's "Warhead", Ed Rush and Optical's "Bacteria", Ram Trilogy's "No Reality", Shy FX's "Bambataa". In the case of techno, it begins and ends with Jeff Mills.
I actually like all those tracks listed, and a fair chunk of Jeff Mills (mainly though the Waveform Transmission stuff). However, by being so good at achieving their uncompromising goals, the effect they have had on their respective genres is to limit other producers' creative visions to choking point. I can't speak with any great authority on techno, but certainly for jungle you suddenly had an enormous glut of tracks working solely within the limits set out by the above tracks, using the same tricks relentlessly.
Of course this sort of thing happens in every genre, but in the case of serious genres like techno and jungle, instead of turning into "cheese", the intense lack of creativity being used has an air of "refinement" to it which becomes just as stale. I'd say that techno is now burdened with this for good (being hedged in on all sides by trance, acid, tech-house etc., its refinement is pretty much its defining aspect these days), while jungle, still being defined by its use of breakbeats and bass, has a chance of working its way out of its cul-de-sac. Indeed, jungle right now is the most populist it's been for years, it's just that no one really cares anymore.
There's other considerations at work here too - sometimes whether a style is "cheesy" or "serious" is merely a matter of perspective. When techstep first started appearing it was in its own brutal way cheesy, the populist choice (after all, it was reviving Belgian techno of all things). However the superficial similarities to techno within the music allowed it to gradually evolve its own scientific, self-conscious internal discourse which eliminated the perception of cheese without actually changing the style of the music in any fundamental way.
With this in mind, it's easy to imagine a similar thing happening within garage, which actually has the chance of killing itself a couple of ways. Either the MJ Cole sound could take over completely (unlikely), or the song-light, bass-heavy "underground" sound could link up to jungle, techno and nu-skool breaks and become devastatingly anal.
In fact, listening to tracks by Stanton Warriors or The Wideboys (especially the "Break & Bass Mix" of their "Hustler", which sounds a revving motorbike), I can easily see this happening. The way the scene's taken to the Timo Maas mix of Azzido Da Bass's "Doom's Night" (surely just a breakbeat version of "Flat Beat"?) also points to this. Either that or there'll be a 2-step backlash and the scene will revert to four to the floor, which there has been some support for.
Just on the matter of trance, yes it's overwhelmingly "teutonic metronome music", but, er, isn't that the point? You can always put some garage on afterwards if you need to. Anyway, I've recommended to Josh that he check out psychedelic trance, which of all the style's subsets seems to least emphasise the four/four beat in favour of all the crazy acid twirling.
Josh seems to feel slightly guilty about the fact that the first "house" track he's found himself liking is an Underworld mix of a Massive Attack track. This is in relation to a discussion we'd been having about the advantages and drawbacks of "gateway" musics - tracks and artists which position themselves on the borders of stylistic divisions (in this case dance music and rock music), and usually serve as the introductory artist or tracks for listeners seeking to move from a broad understanding of one genre to an initial grasp on the other.
I was saying that I dislike the way that often within the critical discourse of rock music, artists like Underworld or Orbital are held up as examples of "superior dance music" primarily because of their conguity to a rock understanding of music, rather than because they do in fact make good dance music. Which I think they both do, or have done on occasion.
That last sentence explains why I don't have a problem with Josh liking an Underworld remix. The thing about Underworld is that despite their occasional predeliction for the meditative electro-ballad, their music tends to be deliberately, uncompromisingly dance-based. Their cache among the rock world comes solely from their use of vocals and the odd guitar, and their integrated live performances - essentially their status as a "real band" as opposed to a faceless dance collective.
This means two things - firstly that from the Underworld mixes of other artists that I've heard, I'd hardly expect that their "Risingson" remix would be in some way diluted. Indeed, the mixes I've heard have tended to be even more dancefloor-focused than their own material. Secondly, all the perceived qualities that Underworld possess in the eyes of a rock audience are meaningless in the context of a remix of someone else's work - if anything an affirmation of the meaningless of the idea of "real bands" and the sacredness of the material which they issue.
So Josh, I won't set the dogs on you, and if I hear that remix I'll try and think of other things you might like. In terms of Underworld's sound in general, if anyone liked the driving Moroder-esque sound of a lot of the tracks on Beaucoup Fish, I'd highly advise checking out Green Velvet (Cajmere's green haired alter-ego), whose music is similar (down to the paranoid mumbled monologues) but is even more compulsive and brutal.
Yeah well, with all my equivocations over the guy I simply had to buy it, didn't I? And I'm glad I did, because it is a good album. Not an excellent album, and certainly not the definitive 2-step statement it would like to be, but very good nonetheless.
"Introduction" in particular, with its effervescent piano cadence and shimmering strings competing with a roaring-bass dub mix of "Sincere", is the most surprising piece of music I've hear all year, a stunning combination of the brutal with the beautiful that takes the "lush darkside" tendency of a lot of garage tracks (see Zed Bias's "Neighbourhood" in particular) to its logical conclusion. The album never quite matches that intensity after that, although the second half of "MJ FM Interlude", which overlays the similarly amazing dub mix of "Crazy Love" with an effusive ragga chant, surpasses it for pure fun.
Apart from those and the slamming "Slum King" (which is reminiscent of his early work with Ramsey & Fen), Sincere asks the listener to take Cole on his own generally refined terms. "Tired Games", with its politely beeping bass and smooth saxaphone, is good Brand New Heavies, distinctive more for the gorgeous vocals of Elizabeth Troy (she of the wracked vocals on Y-Tribe's "Enough Is Enough") than for its rhythmic science. Troy sings on a number of tracks here and is unfailingly brilliant - the best English diva since Caron Wheeler? She's so versatile! Lusty on "Tired Games", android-like on "Attitude", flighty and capricious on "Crazy Love", she makes each track her own, but each time its a different Elizabeth.
Strangely, apart from "Tired Games", the first part of the record is quite dark and ambiguous. "Attitude" is a wonderfully unstable number with an oozing bass line that reminds me of all that dark dub-jungle from around '94 - Back 2 Basics' "Horns 4 '94", anyone? "Bandelero Desperado", with its haunting female gasp, has a similar air of creeping uncertainty to it, although the laidback ragga rap on top somewhat ruins the effect. Non-hyper ragga chanting seems a bit pointless to me, and on top of Cole's blatant home-listening productions it seems to merely emphasise the lack of energy within the music.
"Crazy Love" coalesces into being a couple of tracks in, and comfortably holds its own as the best "real" track on the album by far. Listening to it, Cole's primary talent becomes devastatingly clear - recontextualising "authentic" sounds (here the pizzicatto strings) within an artificial, rhythmic setting, twinking and tweaking their resonances until they shimmer and burst around your eardrums with heartbreaking clarity. If there's been a single more purely aurally pleasing this year, I'd like to know what it is.
From then onwards it's fairly smooth sailing. "Sanctury" has been criticised for being a "Sincere" retread, which it is, although to me it uses all the tricks employed on the latter - the amorphous blur stringpad arrangement, sashaying percussion, judiciously sampled female vocals and clever decision to drop the 2-step for a four on the floor beat at the end - to even greater effect, capturing a certain fragility that the more unambiguously pleasure-centric "Sincere" just falls short of. Both are desperately superficial, like a cloud of production icing with no cake to actually sink your teeth into, but at the same time their luscious deepness (particularly "Sincere", with its amniotic bass that ebbs and flows around your ears and orgasmic string-gasp tidal swells) provides endless delight.
In between you get "I See", a quite lovely downtempo track that is most notable for Elizabeth coming good on the hints of Kate Bush in "Enough Is Enough". The delicate, high vocals and arty lyrics ("Come to me, my beloved beau", for starters), coupled with Cole's cold arrangement, could easily make this a track from The Hounds Of Love. "Strung Out", an instrumental, string quartet-led companion is a bit pretentious, and by its nature is something I really shouldn't like, but has a similar mournful quality that I find highly appealing.
The excitable acid jazz of "Rough Out Here", with its "soulful" vocals courtesy of "Concept Noir", does annoy me however, despite its generally winning string arrangement. Luckily, it's followed by "Slum King", which with its hard beats and infectious keyboard riffs is pretty much the only track here that sounds like UK Garage in a particularly meaningful sense. If all of Cole's tracks sounded like this he wouldn't be such a distinctive artist, but in the context of everything else going on here it goes down a treat, and the album probably could have done with a few more moments like it.
"Hold On To Me" is another good Troy track: basically a less anxious "Crazy Love", it's pretty good proof for the fact that I'm pretty much going to love anything that Elizabeth sings over. Actually, rather ironically, aspects of the arrangement, particularly the beginning with its sample snippets weaved into a compelling sort of groove, remind me of Roni Size... after I've continually tried to attack that oh so common comparison. If I was Cole I'd have left it there, but instead we get the latin-tinged "Free My Mind", which doesn't add that much to proceedings in my opinion, but if you like that NuYorcian Soul/soulful live house sound, you'll probably find it inoffensive.
For me the strengths Sincere proudly displays are that of an expert producer. Cole's beats are usually not particularly challenging, nor his basslines corrosive, but everything is always expertly programmed and arranged, with each element building off eachother in a perfect example of audio construction. For that reason, he's always at his best when he is in his most coldly technical mode, weaving together disparate elements into a glossy, glassy whole that stuns purely by its flawless packaging.
Conversely, he's at his worst when he sounds like he's allowing one idea to overly dominate the song (the rap in "Bandalero Desperado", the song itself in "Rough Out Here" and the latinate vibe of "Free My Mind"), because it all sounds too deliberate. As an album, the whole thing can be tiresomely polite, although notably the attempts to counteract this (see the first half of "MJ FM Interlude", which seeks to recreate the party vibe of pirate garage radio stations) often come off sounding clumsy and forced.
Anyway, I'm pleasantly surprised by the general high quality of the work on offer here, although I'd hardly say it's the garage album to get. Try a compilation like the Artful Dodger's Ministry Of Sound release, or "Pure Silk - The Third Dimension"; and besides, Craig David or Shanks & Bigfoot's albums might well be better. But if you've liked stuff you've heard by the guy before, I'd say that this is the best album-long representation of his style that could have been hoped for, all things considering.