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Neotropic - White Rabbits

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Artist: Neotropic

Album: White Rabbits

Label: Mush

Review date: Sep. 10, 2004

1990’s retro-activity is nigh upon us. As with most forms of nostalgia, we tend to exalt the best of times past, while conveniently ignoring the worst. Electronic music, which seemed to reach an apex of fidelity and possibility in the mid- '90s, could perhaps benefit from this kind of revisionism. This new decade has seen the genre increasingly fragmented into highly specific sub-trends. Gone are the all-inclusive, something-for-everyone attempts at plurality that were hallmarks of the previous decade.

This seems to be changing of late, as the genre is infusing a '90s approach upon recent studies in collage, post-rock, hip-hop and ambient. Neotropic, a.k.a. Riz Maslen, is a woman who has been tinkering with this very formula over several albums for Ninja Tune. With White Rabbits, her first release for Mush Records, she has made considerable progress in her alchemy.

Buoyed by an organic, post-rock sensibility, the first couple of cuts are almost too user-friendly. There are simmering melodic passages that hover like steam vapors on pavement, but little other distinguishes these tracks from contemporaries like Four Tet or Manitoba. The album was probably conceived as a slow burn; by the fourth track, “Magpies,” (which features Mush records artist Dosh on percussion) Maslen finds her emotional and compositional balance. The loping, Middle Eastern rhythms recall Tricky's early trip-hop experiments more than anything I've heard recently – and it's nice to hear a producer be this direct again.

After awhile, the album's ready-made comforts may become too obvious. I can't quite shake the feeling that I heard it all before. Yet, by sounding so pristine, controlled and comfortable with the past, Neotropic is potentially doing the electronic community a service. White Rabbits forces those involved in the genre to confront its recent history. That's a tall order for geeks who have a tendency to push forward and pretend yesterday never happened. Which isn't to say that the album doesn't have its forward leanings: “Oddity Round-a-Heights” would sound perfectly natural next to a recent Fennesz composition, and “Small Moves” crackles and snaps with bit-reduced halos of sound, fading almost as soon as it arrived. Ominous dub shuffles lurk in the shadows of “Joe Luke,” the records' darkest cut. It never quite convinces me fully of its sinister intent, however – perhaps I've been spoiled.

Maslen's vocals leave a bit to be desired, but their presence is infrequent and not terribly intrusive. Neotropic's annoying tendencies are largely forgivable because she has a strong command of sequence and compositional development. White Rabbits might not impress those looking for the new face of progressive electronic music; nonetheless, those inclined to forget the past while forging futures are advised to take notice.

By Casey Rae-Hunter

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