The “altered states” of rave music are both psychological and geographical. The former only stands to reason: in Nightmares on Wax’s “Aftermath”, the distressed diva complained of “something going round inside my head,” while the morose narrator of Adonis’ “No Way Back” was clearly “too far gone” into the void of his own mind. But alongside this narrative of interior mutation is a more intermittent counterpoint of disorienting translocation, an idea that reached its commercial zenith in the early 1990s with the new age-inflected “fourth world” tribal-dance of Deep Forest or Enigma. Before that, though, there was Jungle Wonz, a side-project of first wave Chicago house producers Marshall Jefferson and Harry Dennis. On tracks like “The Jungle”, Jefferson and Dennis fused house’s non-stop machinic grooves with a lush, verdant soundscape of eerie strings, spiraling flute solos, and teeming animal noises; a literal jungle for the ears and the body. The paradox: using early house’s stiff modern beats to short-circuit a route back to a pancultural wonderland.
The idea that Cut Copy’s Oceans Apart, a DJ mix homage to the current dance music emerging from the band’s hometown of Melbourne, Australia, should devote itself so firmly to reviving the Jungle Wonz lineage initially seems like an odd fit for the city, which spends so much time fervently wishing that it was London or New York or Berlin. Still, despite (or perhaps because of) Melbourne’s habitual northern hemispheric focus, this stripe of exoticism makes sense for, and of, a city poised on the edge of the “outback”, whose self-identity as a city of light and culture is expressed so uncertainly and felt so precariously.
The archly named Coober Pedy University Band (there’s no university in that isolated mining town) call out the elephant in the room with “Kookaburra”, its restlessly percussive tribal house groove pivoting around muted samples of chanting indigenous Australian women and blasts of didgeridoo where the bassline should be, not to mention the abrasive, high-pitched screech of the titular native bird’s cackle. “Kookaburra” is knowingly vexed, its local flavor offered up both as commentary and druggy, decontextualized sound, less celebration than disoriented haze.
Oceans Apart’s stylistic expanse is broader than these markers, commencing with the familiar, sparkling electro-disco of Knightlife’s “Don’t Stop” and closing on a run of fabulously metallic slow-motion grooves such as Bell Towers’ “After Party at Jackson’s House”. But what surprises and impresses is the dedication with which Cut Copy’s mix plumbs the depths of its “fourth world” preoccupation; the great expansionist house producers of the past such as Jefferson, Mr. Fingers, 808 State, and A Guy Called Gerald are hardly obscure or forgotten, but their more otherworldly tendencies have remained somehow liminal, faintly coloring the edges of other, more urban-centric house revivals. Oceans Apart places these explorations at the dead center of its aesthetic quest, and the result is a mix of great and distinct personality.
Some of the individual tracks deserve florid description. Tornado Wallace’s “Circadia” is straight out of the Jungle Wonz playbook, all hollowed-out metallic snare hits, scintillating hi-hat patterns, tribal sighs, and shimmering synth-vamps, like a mirage twinkling at the end of a desert highway. Statue’s “Statue Theme” and Fantastic Man’s “Robotic Temptation” are almost impossibly pretty Balearic soundworlds of rippling, flickering percussion, eddying disembodied echoes and beguiling and childlike melodies. Len Leise’s “Call of Kati Thanda” is even more smacked out, setting quietly churning didgeridoo bass against a bereft and operatic moan. Ara Koufax’s “Brenda” takes the entire aesthetic to its pop-minded logical conclusion, offering an unabashed “Voodoo Ray” homage with endlessly percolating acid bass, strobing piano vamps and multi-layered samples from South African singer Brenda Fassie.
After so many waves of early house revivalism, it’s this sense of the naïveté of early rave music and its desire for spiritual plenitude that now sounds retro, rather than the beats that supported it. Oceans Apart recalls the heady optimism (and resulting wild cultural appropriation) of that moment with a fond nostalgia, its dreams of Melbourne dreaming of Chicago dreaming of Melbourne all in service of a bigger dream: the tantalizing possibility that maybe we’re not too far gone; maybe there is, in fact, a way back.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1EPDxqS