Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Review of Roni Size: New Forms

Here's an ancient review of Roni Size's New Forms from the dearly departed (and pretty well paying) Addicted to Noise. All the good ideas come in the last five paragraphs when I'm ripping on it.

New Forms, Roni Size (Mercury)

Bass and Drums

By Kevin John

Believe the hype. New Forms is one of the greatest drum and bass albums ever. Recent drum and bass albums from Photek and Jamie Myerson operate under the same lazy, conceited assumption that informs the aimlessness of most compilations - namely, that the inexorable clickety-clack of drum patterns loop-locked at 150 BPM can stand in for the absence of musical ideas exciting, affective or melodic enough to fill 250 bars of music. Because there is no such lack in the upper stratum of New Forms, Size and his collective can weave their bottoms in and out of the voices and "real" musicians, splitting the difference between drum and bass and bringing them
together only when dramatically expedient.

Toward the end of the title track, Bahamadia's rap stops after it's built rising action for the last five minutes. Just when you get sick of wondering exactly where her repeated verse will take you next, the drums drop out allowing a creeping bass line to create suspense on its own before the jittery jungle jerk of the drums kicks back in for a satisfying climax. This simple rhythmic formula recalls the tense foreplay that P-Funk held off until they splattered cum all over their Fun Fur diapers. As such, it tells more exciting and sexier stories than the voices do.

Of course, the voices (most of which belong to women – a refreshing development in such a boy's game) along with the "real" instruments are this album's calling card. The great throw-away rap in "Railing," the double bass and drums interplay of "Brown Paper Bag," and the sung melody of
"Heroes" all enable the listener to recall these tracks simply by hearing their names dropped by some bandwagoneer at a party. Those not accustomed to dancing in k-holes will have no problem shaking a rump to the fat-bottomed whomp of "Watching Windows." Even the genre's formerly prohibitive
speediness is rendered palatable by the slowing effect of the vocals and the constant play of the rhythms. All very nice.

But blessing New Forms one of the greatest drum and bass albums ever does not mean it's a great album. A good album? Sure. A great one? Pah! New Forms forces the future rather than simply being something new under the sun.

Take the opening line of "Share the fall": "Can you see what I see? The Future!" And, indeed, it sounds like the future, say a television spot for commercial inter-planetary flights from some bad sci-fi film. That is, the staccato cheese of Onallee's vocals transforms the track into a quaint idea of what the future will sound like and, as such, is no more innovative than the cantina music in Star Wars.

No doubt this strained, unintentional campiness stems from Reprazent's holy insertion of organic matter into their techno-utopia which betrays a sneaking sense that drum and bass is no good "on its own"; that it must aspire to such high-falutin' art forms as jazz and poetry in order to be significant.

In this context, it's easy to understand why this vaguely clichéd milestone has elicited the almighty cliché comparison to Sgt. Pepper. But, if anything, New Forms is too Sgt. Pepper before there was even a drum and bass Meet the Beatles to "improve upon" (if the Jungle Massive compilation from a few years back was it, we're all doomed). Drum and bass hasn't played out its fun, parents-just-don't-understand spirit enough to justify turning it into a respectable art form yet. In fact, it's not even close.

And if we're to judge New Forms as a double CD, then it is altogether an unmitigated flop. Most critics give the second disc a cursory mention if they don't ignore it altogether. That's because it bears the same relationship as the second disc of New Order's Substance (compact disc version) did to its first disc, i.e., a disc of remixes and other useless odds and ends (but not edits, oh no, never edits). The difference is, of course, that Substance was a greatest hits collection whereas New Forms is the Size crew's first pompous outing. Have you ever heard the prediction that in the future bands will debut with their greatest hits? Well, the future is here folks! So here's a proposition for the post-future that doesn't shoot so high: how 'bout a drum and bass album that lasts thirty-five minutes? Now there's something new!!


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