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Various - Various Versus

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Artist: Various

Album: Various Versus

Label: Various

Review date: Sep. 9, 2008

Much like the current crop of dubstep artists, Various explores how clicks and low frequencies can leave craters in mood music. What’s distinct about Adam Phillips and Ian Carter are the targets of their artillery. Only a fraction of their productions fit the dropped-beat feel of dub and its London descendants. They have a thing for classical guitar arpeggios and clear-voiced female singers. Folk ingredients usually suggest warmth and greenery. Various make them sound like snow flurries in a parking lot at midnight. When cooler elements are in their hands, the results are even more desolate.

The first half of Versus collects six cross-genre remixes – chart pop, indie, grime, chamber pop. Upon first hearing their version of Sugarbabes’ "Too Lost In You” (originally released on 12” in 2006), with R ‘n’ B melisma slipping over blips and crashes, I assumed they were flattening the fizz from a pop number. But the original is a movie ballad, and sulky one at that. Various makes it colder and gives it a pulse. Plumbing through the original, they find a descending bass figure. Funk is excavated from a song that seemed devoid of it. With the sentimentality stripped out, it sounds a lot more lost.

Their meddling with Foals’ "Red Sox Pugie" pushes the song even further afield. The UK NME band launch their original with a snare drum clattering like it’s about to fall off it’s stand, but sparkling guitars ultimately bring the song to an arena-friendly chorus. Various never let it get to a release like that. They drive the verses with a broken beat, discarding all but the sparsest guitar bits, and replace the crescendo with almost nothing but a bass hit. What remains is a track that illustrates the mood of the lyrics ("These wasp nests in your head / These terminals in your head”) better than the original. It comes at the expense of drama, but the tradeoff makes for a stronger realization of the song’s potential. A lot of remixers take the approach of "what can I do to this song?" Various are as interested in a song’s meaning as much as the beats. They interpret as they mix.

Which is why the second half of Versus, where their own songs are reworked by other deejays, isn’t as compelling, even if the tracks themselves are more than competent. Various’ best singles, like "Hater,” work because of unfilled space. Bent-circuit chirps are given room to reverberate, while washes of white noise weave around the singer. With so much of the spectrum left open, the temptation to fill it is obvious and all too tempting. Zomby does just that with "Hater,” and while it remains haunting, it’s also busy. Zan Lyons is more sympathetic to the Various aesthetic – his own work mixes clamor and woody acoustic tones. Cellos and icy bells make the bulk of "Foller" resemble a minimalist work from Terry Riley or Michael Nyman, but squelches and echoes eventually disturb the peace.

By it’s very conception, an album like this is going to be a mixed bag. As with their first album, The World is Gone, Versus has some tracks that don’t work. There’s just not much that can be done with the pedestrian flow of Virus Syndicate. ("Making mixtapes for no pay / Our dreams could not have been further away"). But Various have a predilection for unified concepts; their best work has the stark beauty of Portishead, but without the isolationist vibe. Even in their darkest moments, a Various production suggests the work of a tribe surviving out there, in the wasteland.

By Ben Donnelly

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