This nugget of quality was posted by Production Unit on 27 Jan 2014, and is filled under Chatter, Reviews & Clips.

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Lee Bannon – Alternate/Endings

Lee Bannon

Considering how awash the airwaves were with it in 1993 or thereabouts, and the genre’s apparent simplicity, it’s apparently pretty difficult to make great jungle nowadays.  

Without wishing to come over all “it was nothing but fields and amen breaks here when I were a lad”, too often any attempts to recreate or update the template seem to have lost the spirit of that age, either by stapling on mutant strains that don’t fit or by simple over-egging of what was a perfectly good pudding – for instance, while it didn’t want for plaudits, I for one found that the tropical heat of Machinedrum’s ‘Vapor City’ just left me cold, and even a hero like Mark Pritchard hasn’t brought anything to the table that’s grabbed me.  How hard can it be to chuck together some breaks and samples?

I’d hardly have predicted Lee Bannon as the man to square this particular circle, but the Joey Bada$$ producer and all-round hip hop wunderkind has, in ‘Alternate/Endings’ created an album of brittle ruffneck percussion funk that evokes the golden era of jungle without descending into pastiche.  

The likes of ‘Value 10′ just sing with imagination, verve and swagger, as silken blue chords slide creamily over the bass plate while a well-known Kaossilator helicopter preset reminds us that it’s not an echo from yesteryear but a re-up of some ever-potent merchandise with deserved notoriety.

It’s reminiscent of nothing so much as A Guy Called Gerald’s rightly feted ‘Black Secret Technology’ opus, the clattering, raucous breaks hovering just above the threshold of lo-fidelity, propping grit against mutant jazz tonalities.

Crucially, it also has the odd rubbish bit.  Bear with me here, but much of what makes great dance music memorable is the relationship you build with it when you learn to ignore something that jars – the misplaced female vocal, the dodgy spoken word sample, perhaps even dubious use of a saxophone.  Much like Trainspotting’s “because he’s a mate” justification for one Francis Begbie, the questionable moments are excused away by looking at the bigger picture.

There’s a truly awful 8 seconds or so in ‘Value 10′ that’s as terrible as it is incongruous;  a hyper-speed major scale bass guitar crashes in from an alternate room where a giddy church group have had WAY too much altar wine, but I can forgive it because, well, it’s a great track.  These are the frailties that cement relationships, in music or in people.

It’s also interesting how ‘Alternate/Endings’ avoids the tendency to rewrite jungle as an idee fixe where everything conforms to a 170bpm amens n’ timestretching template.  There were stacks of tunes that broke out of that mould: ‘Helicopter Tune‘ was slowed to almost techno speed, most of ‘Timeless‘ was at a similar tempo, and when jungle seemed to diverge from drum and bass many producers took their foot of the gas.  Bannon seems to display a real knowledge of the tradition in his use of similar pacing on tracks like ‘Shoot Out The Stars And Win’.

Of course, the obvious challenge is that I’m just a rheumy-eyed junglist reliving my better days, and in all honesty, with ‘Ready/Available”s sample of Photek’s classic ‘KJZ‘ ringing in my ears, it’s hard to know if there isn’t at least a grain of truth in that, but with ‘Alternate/Endings’ Bannon takes the right ingredients of that vintage brew, adds some special herbs of his own and serves something up that has a balanced, coherent and unique flavour, at least to my ageing taste buds.

Overall though, what’s refreshing about this album isn’t how it sounds so much as how it feels, because it’s an album that displays an understanding of what made jungle great and how shared memories, good and less good, constitute the narratives that bind us as individuals and groups.  Not bad for a bunch of breaks and samples…

Alternate/Endings is out now on Ninja Tune – pick it up direct from the label here

Lee Bannon artist image


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