Various Artists / Kid Loco
Natural Born Chillers / The Graffiti Artist (OST)
Aleph Zero / Mettray Reformatory
B- / B
atural Born Chillers is more active than its name would suggest, often leaning toward active dub or a more straightforward strain of IDM. Generous dollops of ethnic filigree range from synthetically hokey to genuinely entrancing, depending on usage. Various elements are well sequenced, giving the set a solid flow that avoids stagnation without feeling random
“Alaya” by Ishq, the most downtempo track on the comp, is a sensible starter; at eleven minutes, it goes not far slowly, despite some mellifluous overtone work. It’s chased by two of the best inclusions. Anahakti’s “Shakti” phases in tremulously, with several different levels of rattlesnake sounds supporting the rhythm, albeit at temperatures far below their average habitat. Mid-period Warp is then hit up for bass sounds and semi-melodic upper synthetics. The sharp move is that it’s all simplified, so that more sounds can be layered without getting muddy. “A New Philosophy” by Zen Mechanics follows, alternating between sequencer bits, Orb-like dub, and early Autechre melodies.
The next trio of tracks is focused on sneaky rhythmic attack. It’s all in straight time, but hardly foursquare; multiple lines abound, and syncopation rules. Jirah is reminiscent of the early nineties tribal sound, with some nice sampled guitars gliding over the beats during a very tightly restrained build. The climax is a bit contained, but in keeping with the mix’s feel. Agalactica cuts a looser figure with a loping stride, calling to mind someone gleefully bounding about a reduced gravity environment. It goes on a bit much, but is way more charming than anything deserving the adjective “skirling” has a right to be. The Cosmic Fools’ track sounds the most like a straightforward band, with a stutter-funk bass line, a skittery acoustic guitar, tinkly keybs and a deep-throated female vocal, the only full lyric in the set. The overall effect is slightly anodyne, but solid.
The rest of the mix grabs me less. I’ve tried starting it later to ensure that it’s not just fatigue due to the length, I’ve played it on random, I’ve just concluded that the disc is a bit front-loaded. There’s no obvious flaw with the latter portion, it just hasn’t as many hooks, with one exception. The Shulman Remix of “Ya Bouy” by Omar Faruk Tekbilek and Steve Shehan has some truly wild rhythms with gorgeous mix treatment. The track isn’t flawless, but its peaks are numerous.
There’s promise here; some more risk-taking and general fucking around could get us to the next generation of trip-hop, ambient-dub, electro-ethno, or what-have-you. The influences are there, and not merely recited; execution is solid. It must be tough working in this genre; every now and then one of the artists drops or doubles a beat, or inserts an unsettling sound. How to do more of that without making it too off-putting? Well, I’m not sure, but you should all keep trying. If it could be this pretty but more disturbing, it would stick to the skull more.
Kid Loco’s been quiet of late, and The Graffiti Artist seems to be a tease with no follow-up likely. Judging from the Stoned but Still Handsome One’s website, he’s been producing and remixing, which indicates another compilation at most in the near future. It’s a bit disappointing that there hasn’t been a third album proper six years after his debut, and this fully instrumental score isn’t going to fill the bill.
The first fifty minutes are devoted to three tracks that explore repetitive sub-continental themes that may not play out for the average listener. The tablas and sitars are used to great effect throughout, and other elements surface and fade, most notable a gorgeous clarinet that stars in “First Track” and supports “Lovely Second Track,” along with muted trumpet and glockenspiel. On “Super Third Track” a dubbier direction is taken, with the woodwind line taken by keyboard, only occasionally backed by the wisp of real reed, with percussion set to maximum reverb. At the point the echoing beat has become meaningless, the way a word repeated ad infinitum does, all drops out but for ambient sitar work. This gives way to a slow Meters’ strut before the original backing rhythm of the suite takes us to a fade. It’s a pretty massive investment of time, but it is gorgeous sounding, and worth figuring out compositionally.
“Don’t Forget the Fourth Track” is in more familiar Loco territory, a rather melancholy piece that could’ve fit on his debut with its slow hip-hop beat and elementary keyboard melody. Eventually, delicate acoustic and static electric guitar add a seventies Phoenix element to the song. Alone, it wouldn’t be particularly interesting, but, again, variations on tracks six and seven enliven it, first by plunging it beneath layers of claustrophobic fathoms of deep ambient piano, then swaddling it gently in strings.
The remainder is simply a keyboard bit that could be a Money Mark castoff and a summation of the opening suite that sounds positively concise at seven and a half minutes. These eight tracks filling a CD damn near capacity don’t make essential listening, but they form quite a solid output for a relative scarcity of ideas. The whole is also more interesting than a couple of his slighter works, which bodes well for whatever does come next.
Reviewed by: Dan Miron
Reviewed on: 2005-07-11