Saturday, December 26, 2009

London Elektricity - Billion Dollar Gravy (Original TC Review)

Best Price: $16.98

Breakbeat Science: Cat. # BBSCD009
Released 2003

Track List:
1. Billion Dollar Gravy (6:23)
2. Different Drum (7:22)
3. Fast Soul Music (6:22)
4. To Be Me (6:16)
5. The Great Drum+Bass Swindle (7:09)
6. Cum Dancing (7:15)
7. Main Ingredient (4:35)
8. Harlesden (5:44)
9. My Dreams (7:24)
10. Born To Synthesise (6:41)
11. Syncopated City (5:57)

(2010 Update:
This is about the time us writers at TranceCritic were getting more personable in our grammar, making the reviews much easier reads. Well, at least until you got to the wordy track-by-track detailing. That was still a chore to read, even if the quips were coming much faster than before. It'd still be at least another half-year before we finally figured that out for good.)

IN BRIEF: Soulful sweet sound with city cool stylee.

You know, I really do enjoy me some jungle. When it comes to EDM, the rapid pace and frenetic rhythms of the genre easily encourage you to indulge in the middle word of that acronym. If I just want to cut loose on the dancefloor, jungle gets the job done better than anything else. It matters little to me if my Caucasian heritage leaves me unable to look good going at it -I'm just in it for the fun.

If this is so, then I'm sure you're wondering why it's taken nearly nine months for me, much less TranceCritic in general, to finally get around to reviewing a true blue, honest-to-God, one hundred percent legit jungle album (or drum 'n' bass, but seriously, the difference is negligible in most cases and artists go between the two of them so frequently, it's simpler to just refer to the whole as one -since jungle was the original term, it gets precedent). Well, funny thing about jungle and I is it is one of those styles of music that comes and goes with me. I'll be headstrong into it for a month or two, then be completely apathic to it for long stretches at a time, sometimes never returning to the genre for months, or even a year. Unfortunately, as TranceCritic began, I was on one of those downswings, and it's taken this long for me to feel the vibe again. I'll admit this isn't an exclusive thing to jungle; the same thing tends to occur with other subsets of the EDM spectrum as well. So, if you ever find a style not getting much attention from yours truly, you now know the reason.

Okay, so now that the jungle bug has bitten me again (going to a prolific jungle night certainly helps) I feel I can give the release I've had on my To Review list some proper attention: London Elektricity's Billion Dollar Gravy. Why this one? To be honest, it was the first jungle release from my personal collection I randomly grabbed to review. Yeah, real revolutionary methods we utilize here at TranceCritic, isn't it.

The man behind London Elektricity and Hospital Records, Tony Coleman, is yet another of the label's artists that has taken jungle down exciting, new roads with the soul-and-house jungle fusion dubbed 'liquid funk.' Don't ask me why it's named that, although I admit the music does fit the description better than some other names. With this revolutionary, new-

Wait a moment! That's not right. Liquid funk is hardly new at all. Have we forgotten the work done by Gavin Cheung (as one example) in the mid-90s (Coleman hasn't, as Cheung's Nookie alias does get a shout-out in the liner notes). If house heads or trance heads or any non-jungle heads haven't heard of him, I can understand. But junglists? That's quite criminal if you ask me. It'd be like trance heads not knowing of Claudio Giussani. Hmm... then again, perhaps it isn't so surprising after all.

So, really, liquid funk isn't all that new or revolutionary after all, despite certain media's claims the stuff High Contrast and the ilk are producing is. However, because the Grooverider tech-step, LTJ Bukem atmospheric, and Aphrodite jump-up styles grabbed all the attention from way back (as well as jazzstep being tapped for the 'electronica' wave), it's understandable some of the other stuff was overshadowed for so long. It seems it took the other jungle styles to run their templates so far into the ground, by the time junglists were ready for something else, the liquid funk sound seemed like a stroke of genius. Huh, well that's what happens when folks dedicate their musical horizons to such a small microcosm of style, I guess (hint hint, tranceaddicts!).
I guess you're starting to wonder if I'll ever get around to actually reviewing this release. Okay, fine. Man, are people impatient these days. You'd think they would be able to sit through my ramblings to learn something about this music in the process. I mean, it's not like there aren't more important- oh, yeah. This review.

Billion Dollar Gravy opens with Billion Dollar Gravy, which is as fine a jungle track as any I've heard. Using orchestral strings to provide the backing melodies while frenetic rhythms and smooth, swinging bass energize you, this is certain to move you physically and emotionally. Funky leads and soulful samples provide the padding, as they will for most of these tracks. I could complain the percussion comes off a little tinny, when more refined production would have made this track more intense, but this is only the opener; plenty of room left on this release for Coleman to flex his musical muscle.

If you thought Billion Dollar Gravy was funky, then hang on tight for Different Drum. Along with Blaxploitation guitar licks (or a very good replica of them), mild horns, and that single high-note string heard in many a house track, this is a smooth, soulful slice of music to be had. Throw in some great lyrics from house legend Robert Owens, and the link between jungle and house is complete. Your typical bridges heard in jungle are filled with little piano solos and while the climaxes aren't as intense here, that oh so smooth bassline gets you grooving just as emphatically, especially as you hear Liane Carrol's soulful wails in the background.

Things mellow out a little on the next track, letting orchestral strings and Liane Carrol carry the bulk of the track. Don't be fooled, though, as like the title suggests, Fast Soul Music is quite brisk as well, utilizing the strings to build to little peaks, embellishing sound effects bubble about on the other side before repeating the process throughout. To Be Me continues the inner city cool trend expertly, spicing up the formula by utilizing a bass lick that goes more wwum wwum ww-ww-ww-ww-ww-ww-wwum rather than the smoother versions we've had on hand thus far. Also, expect to hear mellow horns and single piano notes rather than strings to build the peaks up. It may be the exact same template as Fast Soul Track, but it still sounds remarkably different.

The Great Drum+Bass Swindle takes the Different Drum template and cranks the energy up with rolling basslines, spastic rhythms, and sampled singing getting chopped up throughout. This track is also a great example of why the breakdown/build template works so effectively in jungle no matter how much it gets used. Whereas it tends to get redundant in other genres if abused, the rhythm is just so intense here, when you get that respite that can sometimes last up to a minute (although it doesn't here), it is quite welcomed to have a breather on the dancefloor. In addition, when it builds back up again, the payoff is rarely lacking, thrusting right back into the thick of that mad rhythm that you'd have to be either very athletic, jacked on amphetamines, or plain crazy to match pace. You just don't get that with most typical four-on-the-floor dance music.

We're now halfway through this release and, while everything that's been heard has been top notch, I'm starting to get a little antsy. The formula has remained very consistent thus far and, while having similar sounding songs may work fine for singles, you expect a little more variety when it comes to album releases. Can Coleman prove hes more than just a purveyor of funk and soul samplings while making use of just a mostly CHA wiki-CHA, CHA wiki-CHA rhythm in the second half?

Cum Dancing (stop snickering back there, you) aims to prove this isn't a one trick pony, but only halfway. Very synthetic in nature, this was an earlier single for the London Elektricity moniker that seems like the odd man out on Billion Dollar Gravy. Sure, there are still string samples being used, but they are mostly background elements rather than the focus. Instead, Coleman takes a feral bassline and tweaks it about while eerie effects flutter about. However, the same rhythmic template as already heard thus far is still in usage. It's good, but something needs to break up the similarity between all these tracks soon, otherwise things aren't going to stick out as much in later songs.

Main Ingredient seems to indicate Coleman's made his bed with the current rhythmic template and sticking with it, though. More jazzstep than liquid funk in nature, this one's focused more on the lyrics sung by Liane Carrol than the music surrounding it. Definitely a different take, of course, but the rhythm's been just so similar this far through, and it's not sticking out as well as it should. This holds Harlesden back from being as good on this album as it is on its own as well. Yes, it's another fine example of the liquid funk sound, but we've already heard this done on the album, Mr. Coleman. Let's hear what else you can do.

Ah, no dice I see. My Dreams brings Robert Owens back for another smooth little bit of soulful jungle. Much like Main Ingredient, it's quite restrained on the musical department (word to the 808 cowbell though!) so Owens gets the chance to showcase his vocal range, but, please, Coleman, can we get something a little different before this album ends? You've proved you're a master at this liquid funk game now. A new direction would be nice, I'm begging!

Actually, My Dreams was a nice segue into Born To Synthesise, where Coleman finally does something out of the ordinary. The sparseness of the former managed to take us out of the more energetic nature of the rest of the album, and this track brings the energy right down to a crawl with a simple, jazzstep take on, well, acid jazz, I guess. It's quite nice to listen to, as Ms. Carrols lyrics carry quite a bit of weight now that she has the opportunity to embellish a bit without losing pace with quicker rhythms. However, I'm feeling this track is coming almost three songs too late. It would have been perfectly placed after The Great Drum+Bass Swindle to break up the rhythmic monotony that was starting to affect this album. Instead, I guess Coleman decided to go for the "come down at the end of the night after an energetic barrage" feel to this album. Syncopated City certainly helps maintain that feeling, as it's book-ended by pleasant strings and nice vocals, with a stuttering bass and a completely atmospheric rhythmic middle that helps ease us nicely out to finish.

Unfortunately, as nice as it is to finish out, because there was such a long stretch of similar sounding tracks, Billion Dollar Gravy doesn't quite stick out as well as an album with such great songs should. In fact, therein lays my main gripe about many jungle albums: that damned near absolute refusal of some producers to never stray from a given template throughout. It's no surprise to me that some of the best jungle albums I've ever heard are diverse throughout, and don't have a few token different tracks tagged on at the end.

However, this is still an expertly produced album, and recommended to anyone either curious of liquid funk or just how good soulful jungle can sound. The track arrangement may be a little lacking, but they are all fantastic in their own right.

Score: 8/10

Different Drum
The Great Drum+Bass Swindle
Cum Dancing

Written by Sykonee. Originally published 2005 for© All rights reserved.

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