King Midas Sound
, November 3rd, 2011 07:36
What does it mean to love somebody? Deleuze and Guattari offer:
‘It is always to seize that person in a mass, extract him or her from a group, however small, in which he or she participates ... then to find that person’s own packs, the multiplicities he or she encloses within himself or herself which may be of an entirely different nature. To join them to mine, to make them penetrate mine, and for me to penetrate the other person’s.’
King Midas Sound’s 2009 debut album, Waiting For You, was a meditation on thwarted love, on the failed or half-failed intermingling of multiplicities. As poet-turned-singer Roger Robinson put it on ‘Goodbye Girl’, ‘Our love has hit a wall’. Specifically, a wall of the lovers’ own creation, a blockage of previously permeable membranes. Robinson and fellow vocalist Kiki Hitomi (playing the role of spurned sweetheart) were isolated in their own respective seas of urban dread, submerged in layers of hiss and delay; the stultifying chatter of the surrounding, anonymising mass.
Waiting For You was remarkably consistent in tone - so much so that to these ears it’s almost overwhelmingly inert, dead, stratified. Even the survivalist optimism of ‘I Man’ came across as perilously fragile, buried deep in its dub chassis, practically daring you to find something life-affirming in amongst the subdued sonics. Much has been made of the contrast between Midas and the various other projects of Kevin Martin - its tenderness and introspection compared to the militant dancehall of his work as The Bug, for example. But Waiting For You exhibited its own creeping brand of nihilism every bit as menacing as the gangland aggression of ‘Skeng’ or ‘Poison Dart’.
Perhaps it’s a surprise, then, that Without You - a collection of 15 reworks and vocal versions of the tracks from the album - is such a stunning example of the intermingling of bodies, both sonic and artistic. Or perhaps not, given Martin’s credentials as a collaborator and curator. Contributors were invited to either extensively rework the source material or, following in the reggae tradition, contribute their own vocal to an existing track. The results, featuring an impressive array of names from the electronic music diaspora, bear much closer listening than the term ‘remix project’ might suggest.
Far more than simple dancefloor retoolings or publicity-savvy collaborations, what comes to mind when listening through Without You - to borrow another Deleuzian turn of phrase - is ‘Becoming’. Remixer Becoming-Midas, and Midas Becoming-remixer. Take the dBridge revoice which gives the release its name. Its source material, the brief instrumental ‘Blue’, is looped and extended without being radically altered, but seems to take on something of dBridge's own skeletal Autonomic sound purely through association. Could its swooping bass and rushing hihats be the preface to a half-time junglist experiment that never materialises? Similarly, the producer’s wispy falsetto expresses a distinctly Robinson-esque lovelorn angst - but is it really so far from the subject matter of, say, 2009’s ‘Inner Disbelief’?
Such is the sleight of hand at work here: at least one part curatorial genius for every two parts creative. No artist fully escapes the Midas touch: Flying Lotus reigns in his more expansive cosmic tendencies in a surreptitiously funky rework of ‘Lost’. Mala’s offering - probably the most recognisably ‘of’ its parent artist - is pumped full of noxious gas, his usually clean subbass clogged with dissonance. Ras G’s version of ‘Cool Out’ verges on being shockingly abrasive without losing its sense of mischief, slathered with the usual airhorns and ‘Oh Ras!’ proclamations, while Deepchord’s rework of ‘Goodbye Girl’ (as if they needed an excuse) propels the original to the very outer reaches of the dub stratum, til we’re practically spinning off its surface into oblivion. Rob Lowe’s modus operandi as Lichens may be similarly resonant with the Midas aesthetic, but his remix of the same track pulls it the other way, locking it into pure, alienated paralysis. In its muted, greyscale purgatory, Robinson and Hitomi’s vocals seem utterly drained of vitality, circled from above, vulture-like, by Lowe’s wordless falsetto.
Some of the most interesting comminglings, though, result from unresolvable tension between the two parties. Under Cooly G’s vocal, ‘Meltdown’ becomes ‘Spin Me Around’ - Robinson’s account of a destructive desire for closeness is transformed into a tale of carnal fulfillment which, in the context, seems oddly grotesque. ‘Took me home, walked me to my door’, Cooly intones silkily over the ascetic riddim, ‘Next thing we’re on my kitchen floor’. ‘It just feels so right’ may seem like a harmless affirmation of desire, but here its final word is looped and pitched up and up, orgasmic but jarringly inhuman. Nite Jewel’s version of ‘Lost’ is among the most animated on offer, recasting Robinson’s desolation in the face of a lost love as ennobled resolve, to a backdrop of crisp machine drums and bold synths. It’s a gambit which flirts with crassness, but manages to tease something gently uplifting out of its constituent parts.
It’s difficult to talk meaningfully about every track here - clocking in at an hour long, the 15 offerings on ‘Without You’ make for a formidable sit-down listen. But to treat it as a loose cohort of songs lacking in overarching structure (as is tempting with a remix release) would be to miss most of what makes this record great. Granted, there are misfires - Green Gartside of Scritti Politti lays it on sickly sweet in ‘Come And Behold’, and Gang Gang Dance’s rework of animist diatribe ‘Earth A Kill Ya’ is just the wrong side of twee, given its surroundings - but each track has its own distinct function in the overall construction, and the best moments point towards the sublime.
First, there’s Kode9 and The Spaceape’s version of ‘Meltdown’, in which the original is reconceived with a daringly lean garage flex. There’s something in there reminiscent of Peverelist’s recent outings: the subbass sits impenetrably, like rich black ink beading on a synthetic surface. But the real heft comes in Spaceape’s vocals. Unusually, he works from Robinson’s original lyrics, but inverts the pronouns, transforming a self-pitying ‘I’ into a pitied ‘She’, burdening the mix with a crushing accusation of guilt.
Then there’s Hype Williams, with their version of ‘Sumtime’. The tenderness of Robinson’s spoken poem is offset in the original by gently hovering paranoia, an intimacy invaded by insoluble sorrows: ‘I can see she working at her smile, but still the sadness there’. In their rework, Copeland and Blunt dispel doubts but still acknowledge a lingering pain: lumpen synth chords and synthetic voices stack on top of each other in clumsy harmony, underpinned by a lo-fi, stuttering beat loop that lingers on the edge of metric regularity. The whole thing is exquisitely broken, euphoric but almost comically naive. Over the top, Robinson’s monologue is pitched around erratically, now a garbled treble, now impossibly low and resonant. It’s as though his intonations, his identity, are being stretched and warped, reconfigured through closeness to his loved one. In the exchange of multiplicities, the dual act of Becoming, something has to be lost as well as gained. But in the right hands, loss has a beauty in itself.