Tuesday, February 24, 2009

This Week on Audiosurf Radio – 2/24 – Learn to Trip Before You Hop Edition

I'd be worried about him busting his head open but it's already been severed from his body. After the past few weeks, you thought we’d never hear trip hop again, didn’t you? You thought we’d be getting more jazz or classical or bizarre Italian ska? Well, you were wrong.

In case you didn’t know, trip hop is also known as the Bristol Sound due to its origins in the UK city. UK music journalist Andy Pemberton coined the term to describe DJ Shadow’s 1993 album In/Flux. It’s a rather loose genre, ranging from Massive Attack to Portishead to the Gorillaz. You should expect moody, atmospheric music that is often downtempo. In other words, you shouldn’t expect this.

Why’d I give you a little trip hop history lesson? Because this week we’ve got five (!) tracks from trip hop group Little People, off their new “Mickey Mouse Operation” album. And I can’t say much about this band because I can’t find out much about them. Their website offers shockingly little information. There’s a child on their album cover. They have no MySpace. Their contact phone number makes me think they’re from the UK? Or somewhere in Europe at least? Who knows. Read on to find out what I think of what I do know about them: their music.


Man, that track is like...craggy. This song is ALL about the peaks and valleys. This track has some of the steepest uphill climbs I’ve ever seen. The best thing about them: red block drum fills. Eighty percent of the crests occur at drum fills, which almost always cause a flourish of reds. And they usually go by just a little too fast. I will say, that while the song is okay, the ride is much better. The piano/bass/drum (machine?) combo works well enough, I guess. But you’re not getting much in the way of traffic from the piano. It’s all flowing from the drums. Take it or leave it. I say take it.

It's an uphill battle that's way worth it. The instrumentation on this track is a little more interesting. There’s a 70s-, Sugarhill Gang-style beat going on – you know, kick-heavy with a big fat back-beat? And laying over top, oddly enough, is what sounds like a synthesized version of a sitar. It’s not quite a sitar, but it’s not quite anything else. I can’t quite put my finger on it. The result is sublime. The (allow me to be bold) synth-tar adds an otherworldliness to the laid-back joy of the drum beat. While the track is mostly uphill, it stays interesting with some great start/stop action from the drums. I’ve said before that I have a sweet spot in terms of traffic (usually 170 to 210), and this falls a little short of that range. But since its a damn fine track, I find myself being more excited at the challenge of piecing together chains and matches while the traffic ebbs and flows. You should get excited, too, and play this song.

I know.  It looks boring.  Trust me? Ah, the “Moonlight Sonata” remix. That’s a little reductive. It’s not quite as simple as a remix of the famous Beethoven piece. You can hear hints of it all over the piano loop, but the song refuses to just come out and say “OH HI GUYS, I’M PLAYIN’ LUDWIG’S GREATEST HITS!” It’s more subtle than that. The result is a brooding piece that threatens to bore the hell out of you as a ride. Don’t let it. It’s a fine ride. Plus, you’ll get to a start/stop section about two thirds of the way through that’s a blast. At this point, the piano’s faded away, leaving a low, slightly distorted guitar over the drums. Just as the guitar teases the chords from the piano loop, the track starts teasing traffic – showing blocks but pausing your momentum, allowing you a beat or two to come up with a game plan for each coming wave. Overall, it’s low in traffic and uphill. Two qualities I’m not usually a huge fan of. But it’s just too engaging of a ride to skip.

Other selections
The other two tracks are Basique and Gravitas. If you play and enjoy Start Shootin, you’ll probably enjoy Basique. But it’s just too similar for me to recommend both. I will tell you that there’s some good drumwork in this one, too, which makes for some fun traffic patterns. Gravitas seems to fail exactly where Above the Clouds succeeds. It’s going for a more straight-forward sound, I think, but it isn’t unique enough to pull me in. And because Above the Clouds really works because of the music, Gravitas falls short. It seems to be channeling a certain laid-back 90s hip-hop feel, but it doesn’t ring true for me (I’m often turned off by obligatory DJ disc-scratching). The track doesn’t do anything nifty, so don’t bother riding this one unless you are really digging their music and are hungry for more.

Author’s Note
All songs were played on the Pro difficulty using Eraser and Vegas. All songs were listened to with an open mind but some just fell short. Digging this deep into a genre did help me realize what aspects of it I appreciate. Nothing wrong with that.