October 23, 2003

Taylor uses vocal cameos to take tech-house in new directions

Dub Taylor's sound is essentially formulaic, but no worse for the fact. After all, Tri Repetae++-era Autechre was absolutely formulaic, but that did nothing to detract from their appeal. Their tried and true method of beginning a song with a basic percussive structure, then gradually adding more and more melodic embellishments, gave a sense of narrative that became their trademark.

What I mean in Dub Taylor's case is this: I can skip to any track on his new album, Experience, and expect to find crisp tech-house beats, discreet electronic squiggles of sound, and perhaps a minimal bass line. These elements seem separate, and yet they ultimately combine to form little drizzles of sound—each tiny drop feels distinct and yet contributes to the listener's sense of damp impact. They build upon each other in layers until the song takes a coherent shape and direction. This movement is normally provided by a simple but irresistible 4/4 beat. About half of the songs on Experience include either guest vocalists or vocal samples, and this usually constitutes the greatest evolution from previous Taylor songs.

Dub Taylor certainly doesn't shy away from club-length songs—all but one of these songs is over seven minutes—which tends to make them less enthralling in private than in public (at a dance party, I would imagine). But his consistent approach and unwavering knack for crafting a good beat make the album ideal for dancing.

If you're not a tech-house purist, then the few songs with vocals are a welcome addition to the mix. "Your Soul," featuring Vital, has rather inane lyrics, but that comes with the territory. Her presence still enhances the song; accompanied by a hazy synth, her voice creates a full-bodied melody that works perfectly with the understated percussion.

By comparison, "Ko-Hi-Nomitai" is more paranoid and insistent but is again helped by a female vocalist. Renya's cool delivery, combined with dissonant squeals of ray-gun synth, create a lasting impression both of claustrophobia and of inexorable motion.

Even the opening track, "Before You Go," with its silly lyrics ("This is the winter of my discontent/Before you go/Make this moment sweet again") crooned by what sounds like a British octogenarian, is irresistible. With a rubbery bass groove and synth strings floating in and out of hearing, it has you dancing before you can escape to your ironic distance.

Taylor's shining moment here, though, is the effortless, ethereal "Sweet Awakening." After moist beats and low tones (originally voice samples, perhaps) pile up on each other, a warm synth, more lush than any other melody on the album, opens into a cavernous reverberating space. The beat is slowly reintroduced, this time with Nadine's sexy purr; hell, even the lyrics in this case are surprisingly sophisticated. For example, she captures the sensation of new love perfectly in the line "From a million questions/You have answered all with one/Answerrrrrr." Like MRI's ebullient "Tied to the '80s" from last year, it's enough to renew your faith in dance music.