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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Spring Heel Jack, There Are Strings May 25, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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Once upon a time drum’n’bass was huge. So huge in fact that much of what it touched turned to musical gold. Consider as examples A John Coxon and Ashley Wales who, in 1996, in their incarnation as producers and song writers managed to make Everything But the Girl’s ‘Walking Wounded’ a significant hit in the UK charts. But in their other incarnation as Spring Heel Jack they released from 1995 onwards a succession of albums that started off neatly positioned equidistant from drum and bass and dance, with an added experimental flourish or two.

Robert Christgau once called them ‘prog jungle’ and it’s not inapposite. He also went on to say: “What direct connection John Coxon and Ashley Wales retain to dance music is as obscure to me as their precise relationship to contemporary composition.”

It’s a fair point. Their work stripped away a lot of the cheese of some early d’n’b and while using precisely the same elements managed to (re)present it as something sparse and dreamlike.

Their first album, There are Strings is still my personal favourite of their output. The title track exemplifies the approach taken. Vast washes of high pitched strings/synths provide the background to solidly rooted clattering breakbeats and dub inflected basslines. Throw in cascading vocal and synth samples and a piano/keyboard and you’re there.

Likewise, “Only You” which almost entirely through the interplay of bass and strings/keyboards gently builds and builds until at about 6 minutes it coheres as synth strings move to the forefront. It’s simple but effective. “Where Do You Fit In” samples NASA and again uses high pitched ghostly sweeps of strings and a solitary keyboard to convey an unashamedly emotive sound that goes no small way to living up the plaudit from some quarters that this album was a ‘symphonic extravaganza’.

“Flying Again” nods to rave (as does “Colonnades” which seems to me to also owe something to Aphex Twin, although it spins off in a very different direction) while “Masquerade Dub” does almost exactly what it says on the tin. “Lee Perry (Part 1)” takes a different route, speeding matters up and arguably going quite some way towards big beat.

I’m reminded of Disco Inferno, a similar sense of the possibilities inherent in dance music (and Coxon and Wales have gone on to some very eclectic musical territory subsequently), in fact inherent in all music, is very evident here. While jungle is at the heart of the project it encompasses a very broad range of reference points. In it’s own way this is a near perfect blend of the melancholy and yearning that characterises the best of drum and bass.

There are strings

Only You

Lee Perry (Part 1)

Oceola

Flying Again

Where Do You Fit In?

Collonades

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