Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mathew Herbert: There’s me and There’s you

At the end of the 70’s on British television the popular science programme, Tomorrow’s World, held small boys enthralled. The technological Utopian future it breathlessly described perhaps found its high water mark in the demonstration of a sampler which, under expert supervision, created a canine choir singing Happy Birthday, a chorus of Sheep baaing their way through Nessum Dorma, Old McDonald’s Hallelujah Chorus. For inexplicable reasons history took a different course (we shall draw a discreet veil over the crazy frog) and a legion of DJs, techno-types and fan-boy chancers used this same technological marvel to reek revenge upon the world for years they lost to sniffing old vinyl and the ecstasy of alphabeticising their record collections. Not, however, Herbert whose penchant for clicks and crackles, stray scratches and incidental accidents inadvertently gave rise to Microhouse.

Tiring of the conservatism of a lot of electronic dance music, the weird soup that is There’s Me and There’s You is Mathew Herbert’s second foray into big band swing. The album is accompanied (as always with Herbert’s work) with a long list of sonic ingredients including, on this disc, the sound of 70 condoms being scraped along the floor of the British Museum, a match struck in the Houses of Parliament, a nail being hammered into a coffin and vocals recorded at a Kent landfill site, to mention but a few. As intriguingly perverse as this material may sound what is truly bizarre about this disc is how conventional it sounds. The shuffles, buzzes, sniffs and clicks are all folded so tastefully and discreetly into the music that what emerges are a series of Brechtian gestures in the direction of Mancini, coffee table jazz and big brassy pseudo show tunes. There is nothing here to scare the horses, whose distressed whinnying one might well be the one ingredient that this sorely lacks.

Herbert is insistent on process not product but here it seems subsumed beneath a conservative romantic gloss which totally lacks the perverse aggression of Foetus’ Steroid Maximal flirtation with the brass section’s bombast, the darkness of Harvey’s pseudo cinema, the sheer whackness of Sun Ra or, for that matter, the sinister mumblings of trip hop. This, by contrast, sounds utterly deracinated music. Perhaps its insistence on upbeat, cheerful and empty sentiment (on the opening track vocalist Eske sweetly sings ‘nothing of great importance, nothing to prick your conscience, nothing of substance’) is some arch attempt to prize a Situationist gap between form and content but the intriguing motoric threat of The Story quickly disappears and this pattern is repeated throughout, with slick hotel jazz and saccharine vocals obliterating sinister Musique concrète intros, the sound, perhaps, of four hundred Wire readers chewing David Toop to a pulp and vomiting up the American Songbook. What’s unfortunate is the absence of disgust, of surprise. This is food too subtly poisoned to pose a threat to any but the frailest of constitutions.

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