Groove Armada

Northern Star

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This is what happens when you let George Clinton fans start experimenting with ambient house. True -- unlike what their name probably implies, Groove Armada stumble off much more into funk's flamboyant territory than groove's hypnotic subtlety. Which actually isn't so bad. Because here in the band's debut album, Northern Star, such genre tweaking works nearly every time. You get the primal rhythms of "Entrance to Zanzibar" or the Air-like French house of "Dirty Listening," and it sounds soothing as well as unique. It's as if Ninja Tune's mischievous ambient artists (Funki Porcini, The Irresistible Force, etc.) were reinforced by small spikes of traditional melodies instead of just "quirky" samples. The album does tend to shilly-shally by repeating such tricks (the less said about "M2 Many," the better) -- possibly because the straight-ahead spectral ambience or hands-in-the-air booty shaking haven't bitten the band just yet. Even worse, why Groove Armada's majestic "At the River" is strangely absent from the album is anybody's guess (thankfully, rectified later in the band's Vertigo). Which means that as a statement, Northern Star might overall leave one with a plain aftertaste, but the smart laid-back funk of the album will surely have most curious palettes satisfied.

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