Midfield General

General Disarray

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Where has Damian Harris been for the last eight years, you're unlikely to ask? It turns out the Big Beat architect/Norman Cook chum/Skint label boss is alive and well and spent at least a chunk of the time since his late-to-the-party debut LP living in Paris, partying it up with the likes of the Ed Banger and Kitsuné rosters -- labels whose output arguably represents the closest trendy dance music has come to the bombastic, rock/hip-hop/electro-fusing spirit of big beat since the genre fell into disfavor around the turn of the millennium. In fact, to judge by General Disarray's extensive liner thank yous, he's been making friends with virtually everyone who's anyone in the 21st century dance world, but those French connections in particular led to a role executive producing Justice's massive 2007 single "D.A.N.C.E.," and in turn to that groups' Xavier de Rosnay contributions to the Midfield General comeback single, "Disco Sirens." For a song celebrating (and prominently featuring) big beat's most obnoxious secondary trait, it's surprisingly delightful, thanks in part to de Rosnay's funky-struttin' bass work, which nods just slightly to Daft Punk's "Around the World," as well as cheeky rap-styled vocals by Vila of Modular's Bumblebeez 81. That track (it was also mixed by Soulwax, giving it quite an impressive blog-house pedigree) makes an auspicious calling card for this highly unanticipated return, and the guest-heavy General Disarray doesn't disappoint, although it can't help but live up to its title. Like its predecessor, this is a gleefully disorderly grab-bag of an album, wide-ranging in its stylistic variety but also in its rate of success. Save for "Sirens" and the free-floating "Loving Laughter," which is built around samples from Pat Stalworth's sultry 1974 psychedelic soul rarity "Questions," the tracks with prominent vocals don't fare very well -- neither the inexplicable revisiting of Red Sovine's saccharine 1976 country hit "Teddy Bear," with actor Ralph Brown, nor Noel Fielding's unintelligible rambling on "Seed Distribution" encourages repeated listens, while the Robots in Disguise feature "On the Road" is relatively bland, grating disco-punk. The more successful tracks, then, are the ones which actually focus on Harris' production work, like the buzzy instrumental "137 Piano," which makes numerous unorthodox uses of the titular instrument, and the playful, melodic "Dennis and My Sister," which incorporates some goofy spoken samples (answering machine messages asking what he'd like for Christmas, and some rampantly enthusiastic Dutch football commentary) but works as more than a mere novelty. For all Harris' jet setting, he hasn't made any obvious attempts to modernize his sound, which is definitely a good thing -- we too rarely get to hear gloriously stupid old-school beat work-outs like the organ-grinding "Love Thy Self" or "Bass Mechanic," whose thunderous acid thump eventually morphs into a riff on the house classic "Let's Get Brutal." General Disarray does feel like a throwback, but it doesn't sound as hopelessly out of date as one might expect of a big beat album in 2008 (thanks perhaps to the quasi-revival that's already underway), and it's good to enough to hope we'll be hearing more from the General before another eight years is up, particularly if he's more selective next time about which of his innumerable friends he invites into the studio.

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