Album: Planet Genius
Author: Paul Jarvis
Publication: UK-Dance, IDM
== BACKGROUND - Planet Genius is in fact the work of the New York-based German, Frank Genius (anyone?), and is the first CD in a four-part series. Apparently he's released previous material under numerous aliases including Hardkiss, Speed Genius and Fran Genius, and was responsible, as Suite Zero, for a 6-month Levi's ad campaign in the US. The CD's shortly to be released in the States, but as far as I can gather, there are no immediate plans for the UK and Europe.
== PACKAGING - It's quite a striking affair and they've certainly gone to a lot of trouble. All bright and dazzley on the front, all dark and dingy on the back - said to represent the two sides of a planet, those being "synthetic and organic, day and night, bright and dark." There's no inlay card, instead the CD, itself adorned with a nice swirley green, blue and silver design, sits in full view atop a panelled mirror interior. The back is apparently hand-printed using a 19th century press!
== MUSIC - The sample "daaadua - dua - dua," sung in a strangely 50's way, provides the only advance warning before we are hurled headlong, surprised and disorientated, into the boiling melee of sounds that is Planet Genius and the opening track "Dadua" gets underway. My initial impression was "this is weird, REALLY weird" and I must say, having listened to the record a few more times since, I was about right. Words that immediately spring to mind are "dramatic," "surprising," "novel," "disjointed," "experimental" and, well, yes, "WEIRD!" The music here is all these things in fact, but it never crosses the line beyond which lies the unlistenable. To describe in words what this record sounds like is difficult for me because I have no reference points in my record collection and it sounds like nothing I've ever heard before. All that I can say is that this is electronic music and as such probably falls into the pigeonhjole we call IDM. But Planet Genius owes as much to jazz as to dance music and perhaps signifies the birth of a new genre of music - Techno-Jazz.
Track 2, "Bliss in Circles," relies less heavily on dramatics and more on repetition and a rumbling, bumbling bassline. A recurrant female, operatic vocal sample combines with the bass and spooky chord changes to produce a sinister, nightmarish feel which persists until the closing moments when a reverberating piano sequence, perhaps signifying the break of dawn, finally relieves us from our torment.
Next is "Flow" which starts` with bongos, then a bass drum and high hat, then a falling whistle, Miss Ermhelmehey, and BOOM, a groovey, groovey bassline ruptures out of the mix. This is funky stuff which makes me wonder whether I shouldn't have said Techno-Funk. Miss Ermhelmehey ("The Man with Two Brains" - excuse me if I spelt it wrong) spends the large part of this song in the oven.
"Tribe 251" sports a similarly naughty bassline, almost jumping out of the speakers at you at the start, interspersed with bits which sound like they've dropped right out of a tacky 70's action movie soundtrack. Back to dramatics with "Never Going Home" as Pet Shop Boys-style keyboard stabs and a croud shouting "one-two-three" get things underway here, and crop up repeatedly throughout the course of the song (song?).
A jangley riff runs through "King Creole" from start to finish and this track seems to go nowhere fast.
Things get back on form though with the "Secret of 6 Dimensions." First there's a xylophone loop, a "marijuana" sample, the bass and then suddenly we're off as the beat cuts in without warning. The track builds, incorporating tribal chants, to a truly hypnotic crescendo before going through a quieter rest phase involving violins and things. Violins out the way, we're off again only this time to even greater heights - this is trancey stuff.
"Avalon" draws things to a close with what is perhaps the most orthodox cut, and a far cry from the other numbers here. In fact, it sounds for all the world like something off Orbital's "Snivilisation." The soft tones of vocalist Deborah Borchers gentley break the silence and are soon joined by a bouncey bassline and shimmering keyboard effects. The vocals continue throughout, with the later addition of an electric oboe (?), making this the only SONG on, and a fitting close to, Planet Genius.
To sum up, I have to say that this quite an experience. As I've already said, the music is surprising and it's by no means an easy ride. If you like the security of knowing where your music is going next, this isn't for you. If, on the other hand, you fancy an adventure, take the plunge - you won't be disappointed.
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///// ///// John Innes Centre, Norwich Research Park,
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