Credit where it's due: some of the drum patterns constructed here are breathtakingly complex, the kind of polyrhythms that only very nervous octopuses could dance to. But few of the practitioners apply similar diligence to the melodic elements of their pieces; most seem quite satisfied with a breathy flute sample, a smudge of synthesised strings and the abstract cooing of some sultry babe. It's as if the usual priorities of dance music - in which the rhythm matrix serves as the bed upon which bounce the track's more interesting elements - have been turned on their head, the better to show off their drum-programming skills. But there's only so much interest available in percussion alone, even the more innovative beats such as the snappy forwards / backwards bongo sample that drives Wax Doctor's "The Spectrum".
To secure a more lasting impression once its initial faddish appeal has faded, the drum 'n' bass virus needs to infect other pop / rock forms, in the way that jazz, reggae, funk and house have done before: for the moment, Everything But The Girl's Walking Wounded remains the only d'n'b- flavoured album that can be fruitfully played from first to last.
Go! Discs 828 798-2
His 25th album is John Martyn's best for some time, a relaxed, summery affair on which the songs seem to evaporate in their warm surroundings, leaving just Cheshire-Cat suggestions of emotions and Martyn's balmy baritone humming like a cloud of insects.
Chicago hip-hop engineer Stefon Taylor has decked the one-time folkie out with discreet, shuffling grooves that carry the songs lightly along. Martyn's languid, slightly baffled vocal style suits the trancey grooves well: they offer a regular, but not intrusive, structure against which he can extemporise freely as the feeling takes him. Check the way "All in your Favour" breaks down into looped layers of scatted vocables riding a warm, rolling breakbeat.
The warmth radiating from the album stretches to Martyn's delivery, too: even when considering "The Downward Pull of Human Nature", he manages to sweeten the fatalism with a graceful, delicate touch, which in less able hands would lapse into whimsy. If there is a fault, it lies in the comparative lack of guitar on and.: apart from one perfunctory wah-wah solo in "Step it Up", there's little trace of the innovative six-stringed artistry that glowed through albums such as Solid Air. Why bury it so invisibly here?
Sweet Relief II
Columbia COL 484137 2
In America, health insurance is so expensive that many musicians simply can't afford to pay for it, even though they can't really afford not to pay for it. Hence the Sweet Relief fund, established earlier this decade to help offset uninsured musicians' medical costs - in the first place, those of MS-afflicted Victoria Williams, whose songs were covered on the first Sweet Relief benefit album.
This is a more substantial collection than its predecessor, largely because the songs covered here by the cream of US college-rock bands are written by Vic Chesnutt, the wheelchair-bound bard of Athens, Georgia, and are of much sterner stuff than Williams' whimsical ditties. There's no hiding place in these songs, with their references to "intravenous Demerol" and their unflinching self-assessments.
The best track comes from the unusual combination of Joe Henry and Madonna, who squeeze magic out of "Guilty by Association", a song about the burdens of someone else's celebrity (possibly Chesnutt's friend Michael Stipe): you can hear the exhaustion as Madonna, fresh from her stalker trial, murmurs sweetly about "the loonies... loaded with questions" that harass the famous and their friends - a downside to which this album offers an impressive counterbalance.
ANDY GILLReuse content