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Minilogue / Imps - Animals / Bring Out The Imps

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Artist: Minilogue / Imps

Album: Animals / Bring Out The Imps

Label: Cocoon

Review date: Jun. 18, 2008


Minilogue - "Animals" (Animals)


Minilogue, the Swedish duo of Sebastian Mullaert and Marcus Henriksson, were borne of trance, and while they’re best known for minimal, tech-house sides like “Elephant’s Parade”, trance’s ghost still haunts their productions, through the long teases and slow builds in their structures, and the occasional use of gratuitous effects. They’re also keen on their ‘audio architecture’––the best Minilogue productions are very aware of how space functions within music, privileging dotty arpeggio patterns that bounce around the bedroom, and vague washes of digital detritus that still, after all these years, recall the Basic Channel and Chain Reaction axis.

Animals is an overflowing double CD, recorded over three years, with one disc devoted to tech-house and the other to ambience. There’s vanity in this information overload, and some untrimmed excess as well; I’d pause before calling it prog (though the title may well reference Pink Floyd, for all I know), but the cumulative effect of over 150 minutes of Minilogue is that of exhaustion (the flipside of trance’s endurance/marathon aesthetic). Their discrete productions could never be called overwhelming, but they’re certainly ‘of a piece’, and this tonal homogeneity gets tiring over a long distance. And while they’re far from the first techno/etc act to imply that hours equate to quality, they are one of the latest offenders. It’s a bit of a turn-off, to be honest.

Having said that, there are plenty of endearing details within Animals’ tech-house productions: the arpeggios in “Hitchhiker’s Choice” skip and glide across the sturdy thump of the kick; “33,000 Honeybees”, perhaps the album highlight, features spring loaded rhythms, packed with stray trails of noise that shoot into the air like jet streams, delays pinging everywhere like bouncing balls. The following “Jamaica” features rattling, almost militaristic snare runs that sometimes slip briefly into a digital echo chamber, swishing effects around like mouthwash bubbling between cheeks.

The ambient cuts that make up the second disc of Animals are problematic in comparison. Listening to them, it struck me how little I’ve heard from this field lately, excepting the Pop Ambient releases on Kompakt; it’s fairly easy to reach saturation point with this music, which may have something to do with its being stuck in an early 1990s time-warp. Animals attests to this: the stoned ramblings about ‘lying in the grass’ in “Six Arms and One Leg” recall The Orb’s “Little Fluffy Clouds”; the heartbeat pulse and gently glimmering blushes that meander through “Windows” and “Even the Wind Seemed in Deep Sleep” are dead ringers for Global Communication’s landmark 76:14 opus. Minilogue’s language of ambience, all hushed tones, pattering drums, and vaporous whispers of synth, is stuck in the past, though this has just as much to do with inertia inherent in the genre. It’s nice––you could stare out your window to it for hours––but much of it’s a bit superfluous.

There is one moment of unabashed, unreservedly embraceable loveliness on the second disc of Animals. Hidden near the end of the set, the skipping and shuffling drums and pulsating, grey-blue hues of “Feeling in Spring beside the Dressing Table” are gorgeous; it’s a lovely jazz-tronica hybrid whose most enduring characteristic is its tension between forward movement and ambient stasis. I’d hoped the subtle charm of this track would infuse Mullaert and Henriksson’s Imps collaboration with Decay, the Australian jazz duo of Ian Chaplin and Philip Rex. Indeed, Bring Out the Imps starts well: the opening “Second Track” might meander slightly, but its real time manipulations of electronics give it a playful edge, rather like some of the records on the Sonig imprint, and “Almost Live But Definitely Plugged” slips around mischievously, toying with a skittish humour similar to the landmark Flanger records from Atom™ and Burnt Friedmann.

Soon though, the album loses its way with the kinds of indulgences typical of these projects. There’s something strangely unappealing about this merger of jazz and techno/electronica, something all the more surprising considering how the originary texts of this crossover, like the liquid jazz-funk of Miles Davis’s 1970s experiments, are so astonishing. But the lugubrious bass twiddling of “Lost in Rostanga”, the aimless bass, drums and keys jam of “Uncle Limps (Turkish Version)”, or the downtempo lope of much of the rest of the album is all distinctly underwhelming. Bring out the Imps sounds like it was great fun to make––you can hear the quartet talking to each other and goofing in the studio on some tracks, and there’s something charming about this exposition of process––but it’s doesn’t put forward the strongest case for cross-fertilisation. Those intrigued might want to try Jan Jelinek and Triosk’s similar, more successful collaboration from a few years back.

By Jon Dale

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