o if Dizzee Rascal’s the new lyrical hope for UK Garage to pull itself out of the ghetto of faceless crews and the mythologizing of the collective effort, rather than the glorification of the single artist, then who is holding up the instrumental end? Dizzee produces very capably a particular brand of garage- dubbed gutter by various critics. But, as Dizzee himself points out, these tracks are made in a fit of creativity- “I Luv You” was reportedly put together in 20 minutes. There is a reason that these tracks sound unfinished and unrefined and, most of all, gutter. Because they are.
On the other hand, we have the ultra sheen aspects of garage, put together by such producers as MJ Cole. To most listeners, it’s almost too clean and precise. There is a push and pull on many of the tracks that they produce: the listener wants to embrace the diva and the words she sings, but is pulled away by the too-perfect sounds rinsed antiseptically clean. It’s lifeless, in many respects, although many would tell you otherwise. But there is also the in-between- the type of musician that attempts to encompass both and a great deal more. This is Si Begg.
Begg records under a variety of names, but this particular pseudonym is loosely centered around the garage sound. As the first orchestral swells of this album enter, however, it becomes apparent that this will only be a jump-off point for a variety of excursions. And, with any album that uses a genre as a stepping-stone towards other genres, the experiments sometimes work beautifully and sometimes fail miserably.
The first major highlight of the album is the third track, “Buss,” which features Miss MC. While lyrically it barely compares to her stunning solo track “My Message,” the production makes up for it. Begg mixes a sampled flute loop with a typically bouncy garage instrumental underneath Miss MC’s rhymes. The dropping of a simplistic synth line in the bridge and eventual chorus only sweetens the deal.
Unfortunately, immediately following the track is the interminable “England,” which features a strumming guitar and vocoded voice that continually extols the virtues of England. It would be giving too much credit to Begg to believe that he might be parodying the nationalism associated with the Brit-pop movement, but this is perhaps the only explanation that makes the track sound any better.
It’s on the single, “Moveup,” that Begg returns to form providing the instrumental to Mr. Taylor, Mr. Black, and Mr. Aleem. Here, the lyrics overshadow the superb production by Begg. The trio works well with one another and allows each member to have a verse to share their vocal abilities and, more importantly, distinguish themselves from one another.
The track is one of many that feature guests on this album. Begg additionally enlists the help of DJ Rush, Jamie Ball, Femme von Trapp, Danoyd, and Jinadu. And, for the most part, the major successes of the album can be found in these collaborations. When Begg is forced to create tracks with other artists in mind- or in tandem with them- he seems to play to their strengths and allows the other contributor to influence the track.
The highlight collaboration is on “Colour” with Jinadu, which is a slowed-down garage track which functions as a break from the more up-tempo songs surrounding it. Moving at a snail’s pace, the song explores the possibilities of space and silence. This is one of the strongest cases in which the production and the lyrics match up well, balancing one another gracefully.
The overall problem, however, is that Begg also has a number of tracks by himself. It’s not to say that they are bad- but when faced with self-indulgence, he rarely shies away from it. The album clocks in at a healthy 68 minutes and could just as easily be 45- and would be much tighter for it.
But that’s also the beauty of the record. Begg here moves from the dichotomy of garage production styles and virtually ignores them, moving himself out of genre constructs towards an embracing of a variety of different styles and sounds. Next time, however, leave the director’s cut for the DVD, OK?