roduct demos are a funny thing. They can either show the limitations of the product in question, or how well a certain artist can push the product beyond its specified boundaries. With At Home with the Groovebox, the Roland boys organized a very select group of musicians. Some of which have been at the cutting edge of synthesizer design for many years (Jean Jacques Perrey, Gershon Kingsley and Dick Hyman) and a number of modern innovators who strive to push the creative boundaries (Will Oldham in his ‘Bonnie “Prince” Billie’ persona, Beck, and the inevitable Sonic Youth).
Perrey’s “The Groovy Leprechauns” is an overly comical opener and merely relies on the Grooveboxes sample playing ability. Buffalo Daughter follow up with an over the top acid treatment, layered up with Happy-Hardcore samples and dripping with cheese – not the best ever start to a compilation CD. John McEntire attempts to improve things with a mellow track driven along by a fluctuating synthesizer line and some nice mid-song variation in the form of over the top drum breakdowns and high-speed electronic flutters. It’s pleasant enough, but still doesn’t stand out as an impressive example of what the unit can do.
Air to seem to be very familiar with Devices such as Grooveboxes, as their track “Planet Vega” could be mistaken for some of their Premier Symptoms era material. Lush downbeat pad’s and a pleasant resonating melody make for a very evocative and beautiful piece. The even manage to show their usual knack for creating funky [I]almost[/I] acid bass-lines into the 2nd section of the song.
Things really kick into gear though with “Robyn Turns 26”, Pavement's slap-dash, funky and somewhat disjointed piece. You could pretty much forget that it’s supposed to show off the abilities, as Pavement make do with minimal influence from the machine and just produce a genuinely enjoyable track. Money Mark, Beck and Sean Lennon all follow Pavement’s lead, creating funky landscapes out of synth sounds – with Money Mark even managing to sneak in what appears to be the familiar “Devil Woman” bass-melody.
Gershon Kingsley’s disappointing take on the classic instrumental “Popcorn” makes way for noise experimentalism from the Sonic Youth crew, their own attempt at making an electronic simulation of a campfire! Neither Bis’ or Cibo Matto’s tracks work very well at expanding the limitations of the Groovebox, being somewhat cheesy and formulaic pop songs, though the Cibo Matto girls at least feature some pleasant loungey vocals.
Oldham and Hyman wrap things up nicely, Oldham taking a minimalist approach, and creating a very emotional and pleasant track with a minimal amount of interference from the Groovebox itself. Hyman takes the other route of forming an orchestral overload from the somewhat impressive synthesizer sounds, sprinkling gentle waves of sound here and there to create easily the most worthwhile piece by any of the classic musicians on the albums roster.
As a whole the album doesn’t flow from song to song, though the funky body of the album does come together as the most worthwhile contributions. The album doesn’t push many boundaries, it merely does what it’s supposed to do, and in some cases does it very well – but on the occasions that things don’t come together, the album feels cheesy, contrived and somewhat redundant. A nice try, but (with a few exceptions) the songs come off as what they are – demo pieces for a dynamic electronic instrument.
Reviewed by: Chris Andrews
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01