Various Artists

Avantgardism, Vol. 1: Bass 'n Drum

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Exhaustive, yet frequently generic, Avantgardism is a double-disc compilation in the who's who of jungle/drum 'n' bass, with sputtering, hammering snare rushes, mysterious sound bytes and scarcely more than the occasional hint at song structure. Several tracks sneak by undetected, but there's redemption tucked away here and there. Luke Vibert, an exceptional talent, contributes two tracks; one as Plug with a rarity called "Snapping Fuss" (which would show up later as a Wagon Christ track called "Natural Suction" from his 2001 album Musipal), and the other is "Spotlight," almost completely deconstructed by his mate Richard (Aphex Twin) James. Both tracks raise the value of this CD, alongside a handful of other gems...Bedouin Ascent's "Cat Can't Blow" is a gloomy burn through the earholes, Milkyboy does a convincing imitation of Jake Slazenger with the jazzy hopscotch of "Dognuts," and Environmental Science pulses like an acid-drenched laboratory with "Nonsense." Another superstar appearance comes from Tom Jenkinson (aka Squarepusher), with the second disc's closer "Happy Little Wilberforce." A powerful cluster of human beatbox samples and rusty drums that splinter apart beneath mellow electric piano chords (somewhere between Conumber and Port Rhombus). Other tracks seem all the more pale by comparison. Witchman once again proves that his strength is remixing rather than original composition. Force of Angels have two tracks, both of which are only noteworthy because they implement dreamy chords and basic melodies to their excellently generic spray of percussion. Moondog's unusual rock-blues number features haggard vocals by Elizabeth Eastwood and twangy guitar slides and, frankly, were it not for the hyperspastic drum tracks, this song belongs on a completely different record. In 4/4 time, it would be more in line with Bauhaus or Tricky or some slow-burn gothic 4AD outfit. Many of the lesser-known contributors display the programming chops necessary to lay down complicated polyrhythms, but they spend so much time trying to fit the genre that they forget to test the boundaries of it (which is what typically makes the best material in electronics). As hyperactive as the disc may be, the blandness of some tracks may overshadow the diamonds in the rough, and Avantgardism lays out a lot of "rough" to sift through.

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