taring out on a hazy Shanghai afternoon, it’s been a relatively cool day, car horns blow in the distance, fireworks crack, and a light breeze blows my clothes dry on the balcony. I’m listening to Dave Miller’s debut album.
It’s been a while coming, much like the current explosion of industry here in Shanghai, and likewise, who knew what to expect. Press release hyperbole touting it as ‘the first ever minimal broken beat’ album was enough to scare away this hype-o-phobic music fan, at least initially.
Used to describe this kind of music, the word “minimal” is really operating outside its jurisdiction. Of course, any word starts to stretch when you glue it onto a bracket of music, but try any conceivable definition of the word minimal and you’re still not going to fit the broad swathe of sounds, musical techniques and rhythms found here.
“Glitch” is more appropriate; the word clearly enunciates the connection between this music and dub reggae’s deconstruction of sound and production. On Mitchell’s Raccolta, the sandpapering of glitch is like desert sand—everywhere, in your food, your pants, the keys of your computer, it even disrupts the light—granulated glitch encrusts this album from the sharp highs right down to the achingly low lows, but the hazy effect is a far cry from Amsterdam label Delsin’s systematic deep house padding.
From the amorphous rhythm on first track “Down the Line to Harvey,” the origins of its sounds difficult to place, and next track “Conversations Kill”’s ephemeral micro-edited samples, Mitchell’s Raccolta is Miller exploring the space between jazz, house music, and dub soundscapes. Gradually the flavoursome soup of sounds evolves into a rhythm. Broken beat is the most obvious touchstone, the syncopated jazz rhythms and crisp beats obviously inspired by those West London cats. However, Mitchell’s Raccolta has a restrained air, which distances it from the Umod’s old school funk flavour or DJ Rells’s unbridled beat hedonism.
Miller sidestepped the Australian music industry by locking into an international network of artists, but the isolation of his Perth home brands the music with stark melancholy and a sense of independence. That’s why he can match the deep repetitive techno of “Bump Then Feel” with out of sync claps and groaning bass drums, or the stop-start dysfunction and soulful keyboards of “She Makes,” which have more in common with Moodymann’s weirder album cuts.
The album’s feel is set from the first track. It moves around dramatically, but is extremely cohesive: partly because the tracks flow into each other and partly because of the wash of sandpaper. But musically it never sits still. It’s been more than two years since Miller’s first EPs on Background, but he is more than making up for the break by teaming up with fellow West Australian Fiam for a down-tempo release on British label Expanding; finishing a collaboration with Laurence Pike (Triosk); and moving to England. That’s a lot to look forward to.
Reviewed by: Matthew Levinson
Reviewed on: 2005-08-23