808 STATE: DON SOLARIS (1996)
1) Intro; 2) Bond; 3) Bird; 4) Azura; 5) Black Dartangnon; 6) Joyrider; 7) Lopez; 8) Balboa; 9) Kohoutek; 10) Mooz; 11) Jerusahat; 12) Banacheq.
Eight years into their recording career, 808 State are already the elder statesmen of a world-swamping market, completely stripped of their ability to blaze any more trails — not because of a lack of talent, simply due to the exponential growth of competition. At least Newbuild has the benefit of a textbook entry: nothing the band did after Ex:El will ever have the fortune to raise above the status of a discography blip.
But if I were pressed into choosing one favourite from this «just doing our regular thing» kind of period, Don Solaris would probably be it. Why? Beats me if I know. Most likely, there are just a few more tunes than usual that hit the pleasure spot. Or, to be precise, more «momentous ideas» that hit the pleasure spot. 'Banacheq', for instance — now here is a great composition. The main hook sounds like a revolving sonic effect discharged out of a magic wand, the bassline adds a strain of heavy funk, and the final crescendo is of a kind that one normally encounters in rock, not electronic music, with the whole thing becoming crazier and crazier until the inevitable fizzling out. Like a wild, wild fusion rave acted out on digital machinery.
That one is at the very end; in the beginning, we have an equally excellent 'Bond', nothing to do with James (although some of the industrial passages do have a spy movie atmosphere to them), but rather with some real bonds, beginning with atomic and ending with sexual. Yes, as you have correctly guessed, there are lyrics to this song, delivered by Mike Doughty of Soul Coughing, but they are insignificant next to the relentless drive of the tune, which seems to drag the listener through a complex machinery-producing factory, with one grim robotic contraption after the other beating out its own rhythm. Evocative, if not particularly innovative.
Other guests carrying on the tradition of humanizing 808 State albums include fellow Mancunian Lou Rhodes of Lamb on 'Azura' (not very exciting, since she seems to be imitating Björk wherever possible, without having the same potential); James Bradfield of the Manic Street Preachers on 'Lopez', also not a highlight — a song that tries mighty strong to be sunny and optimistic and ends up kinda boring; and another Icelandic lady, Ragnhildur Gísladóttir a.k.a. "Ragga", on the also non-exciting atmospheric Björkism of 'Mooz' (although some bits of her vocalization at the end of the track have a mildly mesmerizing effect).
But overall, it is the non-guest stuff on Don Solaris that elevates the spirit, from the aforementioned 'Banacheq' to the band's continuing love affair with brass overdubs on 'Black Dartangnon' (sic), the catchy and vividly kaleidoscopic dance groove of 'Jerusahat' and the funny vocal loops on 'Bird'. At this point, all that Massey and Co. can really do is try to ensure a separate identity for each of the tracks — and they succeed at least halfway, which is more than enough for a thumbs up.
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