Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Senseless Criticism: Sensory Damage

What's in a dubiously defined sub-genre of electronic music? Well, a lot of these sub-genres have very funny names. There's Techstep, Downtempo, Jazzstep, Mushroom Jazz, Intelligence Dance Music, and, the subject of today's review: Illbient. What is Illbient? Well, first, it's DJ Spooky. That's the foundation. But to describe it. . .well, imagine dark synthesizer ambient conjured up by those like Philip Glass, Vir Unis, or Bill Laswell. Now throw on top of that some screeching noise, hip hop samples, reggae dub, and loud bass. Voila. You have Illbient.

And where better to turn to Illbient than one of the latest compilations (there are usually about 12 or 13 of these a year, so I'm trying to pick the best one), De-Programming Sequence. I won't sugar-coat it, De-Programming Sequence can sometimes be a very challenging listen, but is thought-provoking, complex, and ultimately meditative music. It features ambling songs punctuated by intense samples, orchestral movements, rapid drumming, and all the time moody drones. That might sound like I'm writing a commercial for Pure Moods, but Pure Moods it isn't. This album is DARK in tone, and often can ratchet up to VERY loud. One highlight is DJ Spooky's sole appearance on the record, the ominous "Code Green." Wobbling synthesizers collide with a slow, deep bass and a randomly placed Spanish guitar line to create unbelievable tension. Mentol Nomad brings a hailstorm of symphonic drum rolls and sampled music that sounds like it's from Seven Samurai in "Sangre De Mentol." Such symphonic sampling is common throughout the compilation disc, and the drum beats, though hip hop-like, sound much more symphonic and creepy.

Other great tracks are all over this short compilation. Nate Mars' unsettling, delay-splattered "Concentric Circles" is a great example, where a suddenly sick drum and bass segment comes seemingly out of nowhere to join a flood of weird sounds and reverberating strings and ghosty melodies. The slow-building "At the Edge of Disarmaggedon" from Kentyah Meets Jordan is also an intriguing suite of small funky electronic movements bound together into a complicated suite. What De-Programming Sequence broadcasts is that Illbient is basically the Classical Music of electronically-produced dub, turntablist, and techno music. It features long sections, carefully assembled, with tight chord patterns and transitions throughout. I would say "this is great music to study to", but I'm not in college anymore, so it's "great music to read to" or, in my case "great music to write science fiction to."