Sound Mirrors

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Sound Mirrors suggests that 1989's What's That Noise? wasn't a slick fluke, but that there are actually two Coldcuts. There's the Coldcut who sound like they're controlling the uncontrollable with jagged shards of hip-hop and dance music bouncing joyfully around the room while sneering at the conventional song. Let Us Play!, the unstoppable Journeys by DJ, and their Solid State radio program all fall into this category, all featuring maverick music that made the un-ironic guest appearances of Lisa Stansfield and the bubbly/forgotten Yazz on What's That Noise? seem like youthful pop folly. Follow Norman Cook's evolution from the slick Beats International to the choppier but still accessible Fatboy Slim and it makes much more sense, but Coldcut blossomed into something different with their ass-kicking underground attitude dividing its time between white-boy turntablism and multimedia subversion that challenged the CD medium itself (Let Us Replay! featured a bonus CD-ROM long before most had a use for it). Sound Mirrors isn't entirely without its challenging side -- urban poet Saul Williams talks a suicidal businessman down from the ledge on the hardly everyday "Mr. Nichols" -- but the Solid State downloading snoots are going to be thrown for a loop and the guy from Maroon 5 wouldn't be entirely out of place here. So if Sound Mirrors won't make you the coolest kid at school, it's still an incredibly well-crafted album with much less of the cocky cleverness that burdened Let Us Play! The beautiful voice of house legend Robert Owens isn't lost in "Walk a Mile," but supported by delicious bleeps and dreamy loops. Well-dressed lovers of the fringe will just gush over the icy/avant Annette Peacock going house on "Just for the Kick," and if you want power, Jon Spencer and Mike Ladd bring it on "Everything Is Under Control," the album's only real punch in the gut. Mpho Skeef is one-part M.I.A., one-part Sneaker Pimps on "This Island Earth," the brilliant start to the album's perfect wind-down. "The Soul" and closing title track are as deep listening as they want you to be, creating loose, mysterious landscapes to explore or ignore. While Sound Mirrors works just fine with eyes closed and headphones on, it also lends itself to less involvement, like a stylish accessory. By pulling back on the "wow" factor and demanding less from the listener, Coldcut have delivered their first album that will be listened to twice as much as it's talked about.

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