REVIEW: Various Artists: Dublab Presents: Freeways
b>Various Artists: Dublab Presents: Freeways (Emperor Norton, 2001)
Freeways is a collection of tracks from 13 electronica artists with connections to dublab.com, a streaming broadcaster of DJ and live artist sets, whose goal is to "spread innovative music across the globe". That said, all of the tracks on this CD are by knob-twiddlers based in LA. Whether that means the objective is to "spread innovative Los Angelino music across the globe," well, I don't know.
In any case, what we have here is a well-intentioned compilation, good for some down-tempo chillin', that never meets the promise of its first three tracks. While, like most trancey-housey-ambient techno, the CD makes a nice accompaniment to studying or working, the music is on the whole pedestrian.
Except the first three tracks.
The album begins with "the sky below", a warm, chopped-and-looped charmer by a duo called languis. A very mellow, Kings of Convenience groove works its way in circles around a low-whispered vocal track by guest Fer Chloca. Cure-like puddledrops unobtrusively begin to plink down, tracing the piece's rhythm, and it whirls, quiet and almost Beta Bandy, to silence. While the track isn't crazy-DJ-Shadow or anything, it's vibe is the best kind of downtempo - great as background, but equally suitable for active listening. A lite gem.
The next "song", while not quite so great as its predecessor, is ticklish to the ear and appealing in its quirkiness. Daedalas' "a mashnote" is a pseudo-random mishmash of uneven percussion, Casio fooling, static, and a prominent loop of orchestral strings. While lacking a precise melody, it is lyrical as it dances around a central theme, each time almost reaching something one can anticipate. It's part digital and part romantic, and the polar opposite of anything Fatboy Slim might do. Vaguely reminiscent of I Am Spoonbender.
Finally, the last of this album's "good points" is the pronouncedly weird "digital, version 2.1", by Mia Doi Todd. Mia's delicious molasses voice sings soul-like over repeated synth drums, her Australian (?) accent giving the words an almost gibberish feel. Her delivery is reminiscent of PJ Harvey or even Diana Krall, and the tone of the song is very Solex. A soul croon over a flat percussion loop. But it's terrific! Syncopated, with a Beat poetry, er, beat, she sings like honey about bits and bytes, and I've never heard anything like it.
But it ends there. The rest of the album - ten more tracks - is filled with ho-hum house music, a few conventional hip hop tracks, and some percussion-and-waterfall music that would feel more at home on a Solitudes album or "Sounds of the Rainforest" disc. Sure, you can let it play all day while you toil away at a column for Tangmonkey, but you're not really going to get anything out of it. The CD seems to reflect exactly what plagues music on the Internet (and music in general) - a profound inconsistency. Three tracks do not Album of the Year make, but I may just have to look into Mia Doi Todd's solo album.