licker is the vehicle of John Hughes III, owner of highly regarded Hefty Records of Chicago. Far from being the vanity project of a label head, Hughes III was in the local band Bill Ding before he owned his own label and began to release under Slicker. He has one previous album under this moniker, named 'Confidence in Duber' which was then treated to an albums worth of remixes by IDM artists such as Richard Devine and Scott Herren. On 'The Latest,' Hughes leaps forward from his debut album in sonic proficiency, but is still caught in the same quandrary as the debut album: a lack of emotional resonance. It's been standard operating procedure in American IDM to have a great amount of technical proficiency. Richard Devine is one of the main culprits with his technically engaging, emotionally lacking 'Lipswitch.' Hughes falls into this trap with a distinctly Chicago air about him, while Devine's had a more automated Miami or English/Warp sound to it.
The Chicago locale that Hughes haunts appears to have a direct influence on the type of electronics that he engages in using. In almost every song there is an acoustic element of either guitar, piano, horns, or vibraphones present in the mix. The organic nature of the mix, brings about the inevitable question of man and machine and their struggle against each other. Unfortunately, Slicker appears to avoid this problem by allowing a great amount of static in the live instrumentation he chooses to sample. It seems that the free rein brought in by musicians such as guitarist Takeshi Mitsuhashi, pianist Christopher Case, drummer Kevin Dureman, and vibraphone player Ric Embach has been stifled by the electronics going on around it. Its not as though their contributions have been cut short by Hughes, but more that they fail to exemplify what they are truly capable of, as though Hughes electronic backdrops are not exactly the right match for their talents. On some tracks this failing occurs. On other tracks, however, a near perfection is achieved.
On "Oper Huru," the music flows from the pianist, in a natural progression with a definite free jazz bent. The playing is, at once, unobtrusive and ever present in the mix, creating a natural dichotomy between the piano player and the electronic swirl of sound that goes around him. In most cases, though, this harmonious relationship is not kept and the electronics intervene in the uninspired sampled piece that Hughes takes from the studio.
Hughes music lends itself easily to a cinematic rendering. It's no surprise, then, to hear that he has done soundtrack work in the past. With most soundtracks, however, there is a signature piece, a climax point that one can point to as the obvious centerpiece of the album. On 'The Latest,' it seems as though Hughes has constructed a number of good pieces to fill the time, pieces that illustrate the rising action. These pieces do not tend to go anywhere past their introduction and hinting at things to come, that never materialize. There is much to be spoken for the art of sublety, but there is also much to be spoken for the art of an album that has a definite arc from beginning to end.Overall this is a solid release, with the whole being of a distinct interest to any listener who is looking for a release that combines live instrumentation with jazz leanings and electronic stylings that varies widely in its influence from German Teutonic Dub to Chicago house beat structures. Unfortunately it suffers the fate of many electronic releases, it doesn't seem to go anywhere, rather it is a collection of tracks. What could have just as easily have released as singles, is brought together in this collection that marks a technical jump from his debut, but an emotional stasis.