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Spectre - Retrospectre

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Artist: Spectre

Album: Retrospectre

Label: Quatermass

Review date: Jun. 20, 2004

If there were ever any reason for an analog (vinyl record and outboard sampler) enthusiast to celebrate, “Retrospectre” may very well be it. This slice of largely instrumental hip-hop from the Ill Saint, aka Spectre, pulses with dark, earthy warmth. Roughshod, bestial breaks shatter the empty spaces, while the sooty and often re-pitched vocal samples serve as unsettling guideposts throughout the album. Retrospectre spans a decade-plus history of sonic investigations into occult realms of the beat, yet there is a captivating freshness to the tracks, which certainly owes much to the manner in which one assumes they were composed. I can almost imagine the Ill Saint crouched in a candlelit room, spinning his arcane wax and conjuring unearthly juxtapositions from each hand triggered sample.

Largely without recognizable computer assisted editing tricks, Spectre’s organic terrors have a chance to breathe; the textures allow the contours of your own imagination to conform with the rawness of each track, much in the same way HP Lovecraft’s opaque descriptions merged disturbingly with his reader’s deepest fears. Songs like “Trash n’ Ready” play like real audio voodoo, employing the echoes of dub and channeling them through seriously snaky tribal drums. Occasionally, stabs of staccato melody pierce the center of the piece, as though desperate to cut through this purplest of hazes.

In some senses, the dankness of Retrospectre seems wholly compatible with hashish benders of the most Burroughs-esque variety, although I dare not attempt this synthesis myself. Instead, it is quite favorable enough to let this music swim through the headphones with the lights at their dimmest setting. If there’s any justice in the world, hip-hop compositions like Spectre’s will one day achieve the cultural currency of your DJ Spookys and Shadows, although it is entirely plausible that this recognition would be contrary to the Ill Saint’s intent. The paranoiac head trips that he invokes may be best left out of the grip of the uninitiated. Even fairly well known MCs like Sensational seem more disquieting than usual in their appearances, as though there were an esoteric understanding between producer and collaborator that transcends mundane prop dropping.

Somehow all of this darkness is so full of vitality that there is never any question of Spectre’s enthusiasm for his work. With madcap dashes through the world of vinyl and samples, he often comes across as Madlib’s evil twin. Unlike the former, however, there is never any pandering to the listener’s state of mind. Instead, Spectre makes us accompany him along each and every corner in his survey of these dark reaches of consciousness, as though we had no choice but to follow. With his rogue wit and fiendish skills on the implements of the old school, Spectre entices like few others.

By Casey Rae-Hunter

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