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King Midas Sound - Without You

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Artist: King Midas Sound

Album: Without You

Label: Hyperdub

Review date: Nov. 1, 2011

Kevin Martin’s first album under the identity of The Bug was a relatively quiet affair- at least compared to GOD, Ice and other early 1990s projects that used industrial-weight percussion. That album, Tapping the Conversation from 1997, was an alternative soundtrack for the Coppola movie about misinterpreting snippets of a secretly recorded conversation. The project name referred to a microphone, not an insect. The instrumentals were appropriately claustrophobic, unmoored and aloof. As The Bug’s discography progressed, reggae MCs got involved and dubstep happened. By the time of London Zoo, those early smokey beats had become burning buildings.

So Martin started King Midas Sound to return to downtempo investigations and put The Bug tracks out for remixing. Working with the airy singer Kiki Hitomi and Trinidadian writer Roger Robinson, Waiting For You was a disciplined affair, keeping the snares tame and giving his vocalists space. They obliged by sticking to minor-key wavers and reflective narratives. Now comes the King Midas reworks, putting the bass back in place. The guy is fascinated by fragments and watching where they drift.

Most of the guest producers have obscured Martin’s original atmosphere. This turns out to be a good thing, and not because Martin’s were weak. In the case of Nite Jewel’s version of “Lost,” the backing is completely torn out, but the vocals are kept intact. The original backing had a crime jazz feel, like a Portishead torch song. The musical motif was a zither-like ripple of notes that kept gnawing at the restrained beat -- even in chillout mode, Martin can be intimidating. But by setting those vocals to a billowing muted horn sound and fast forwarding bass, and the same melody becomes a house ballad. The exact same bit of singing tells two tales of lost love. King Midas Sound captured the ruin of being abandoned. Nite Jewel captures the resolve that comes after that devastation.

Gang Gang Dance do an ever more radical job on Roger Robinson’s sermon about ecological karma, “Earth A Kill Ya.” Lines like “you can’t sell the earth for profit” spill out of whirring cash-register chirps and clanks. It’s positively sunny while still making those dour points. The setting has been moved from a dingy dub alleyway to a meadow full of flowers and springs.

Those closer to Martin’s circle do less messing around. Kode9 is such a kindred spirit, his track could play on the original album without breaking the mood in the slightest. Kiki Hitomi remixes herself, adding a levee-breaking Def Jam beat. It’s kinda corny, but hints at the tension that may have propelled the original record. If you started a project with Martin, you were probably hoping to watch him lay down some thuds.

Both Joel Ford and Green Gartside provide blue-eyed soul tracks. Ford’s eraszt-Timberlake cooing is paired with the zither ripple from the original “Lost.” The blend of sugar and salt aims for breezy but ends up queasy- it’s unclear if he’s going for irony with his soft delivery, or didn’t sense that the messages failed to mix. Gartside, who at age 55 still sounds like he could try out for a boy band, comes up with a much more satisfying melody. He hardly changes the noir backing, but his pop-classicist way with a tune makes the track feel like a Scritti Politti original. His personality dominates the sound so much that you don’t notice that he’s enjambing his lyrics to hit the end of the measures. He floats on top a bit, like karaoke, but it’s nothing further reworking couldn’t fix. For all the ups and downs, this collection fulfills Martin’s goal of continuing the conversation.

By Ben Donnelly

Other Reviews of King Midas Sound

Waiting For You

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