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Vacuous Ninnies - Vacuous Ninnies

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Artist: Vacuous Ninnies

Album: Vacuous Ninnies

Label: Quatermass

Review date: Aug. 7, 2003

House Sweet House

The cover of the new Vacuous Ninnies record is, on first glance, at the least puzzling and at the most disturbing. An ambiguous-looking brownish, mottled creature with a capped protuberance confronts the viewer. Open the jewel case and the same picture appears on the inside of the jacket, but from farther away as to capture the whole image: a pig in rigor mortis, snout down in a feed bowl. The progression of the two photographs, from close and unrecognizable to distant and instantly obvious, reflects the music within as well. This is electronic music from Northern England, minimalist-house-cum-deft-experimentation packaged in alternating layers – a sonic tiramisu to follow your fettuccini and veal. At first encounter, we focus on the irregularities, the singularity of the shapes, and when we step back, the immensity becomes apparent.

House music’s steady 4/4 dance beat is the foundational whole for the Vacuous Ninnies (singular artist, in fact), a self-avowed fan of Germany’s Kompakt label. The artist’s inversions and diversions derive without question from this repetitive bob. Enter the samples, and as is the case with many electronic artists, the creation technique is as interesting as the end product. The Ninny rifles through boxes of randomly combined cassette tapes and runs them through a garage sale boom box, then layers the sounds amidst various other sources and teases them – fuzzing, stretching, compressing, distorting, taffy-pulling, doing anything possible to avoid the boring cleanliness of a plain digital sample. 1980s synth-pop albums are the primary source, with most samples short and obfuscated enough to remain anonymous. The chorus “All Fall Down” from “Cripples Fall Down” is the most obvious and wry usage, as 5 Star’s dated dance vocals reverberate in a new era, flat and cold. The Ninny proves to be an expert with the effects board as well, similar to another primary influence, Mouse on Mars. “Napkin Rhesus” blurts dubs and Doppler effects ascensions while overlooking the brooding aquatic crackles and allusions of “This and Nothing Else is Necessary Now.” Without ever straying far from home (or house), the album binds up all its fuzzbox and phaser experimentation in that glistening wrapper of 1-2-3-4 punches.

The Ninny does experiment with the beat tracks themselves as the album progresses, most successfully on “The Hottentot Venus” (pickled vaginas…?), which casually substitutes a heavy beat for static clicks and eventually melts into a warm shower of green atmospheric vibes lathered on top, a technique that he duplicates on the last track, “The Answers Smile”. Every cut is slowly pinched from the end; the last two beats of the standard 4/4 might disappear, shortening each measure and creating a sonic strangulation, as if the listener, out of breath, is trying to gasp regular intervals in a half-panicked, half-settled way.

V. Ninny demonstrates contrasting composure in the calm sections of tracks such as “Sidereal,” a dance groove which he strips down midway through, as if the DJ behind the booth has left only the beat spinning and retreated to the alley to rid himself of the night’s poisons. The upper register quietly comes back, slowly revealing that the music never left; it only held itself back for a “house track solo”. This kind of nod makes us appreciate the Ninny’s fundamentals, and rather than hiding his roots or chopping off the bottom altogether, he elaborates over the top. Vacuous Ninnies is juicy strawberries on top of a sponge cake, the excitement or boredom of a party composed of strangers, and one cut at a time, you just might be manipulated to forget the shape of the whole…er…pig.

By Joel Calahan

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