Stephen Jones

1985-2001

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Like few artists of his time, Babybird's Stephen Jones never fails to surprise his fans or his critics, as he seemingly crafts crowning achievement after crowning achievement. 1985-2001 continues his run of superb musical releases. Packed in an immensely cool and attractive glossy fold-out case and strung across three mini-CDs, these 24 songs once again prove Jones' mastery of sonic texture and melody. By the time the final note has rung, there is no doubt that Jones has proved himself a major artistic force. While the ragged lo-fi mysticism of early Babybird albums revealed his soul and the later ornate pop albums proved him a master of hooks and catchy choruses, only with this release does Jones show his skills as an ace composer. Though the entire listening experience is just over an hour, swapping discs makes for an epic, mind-blowing journey into the heart of the artist's obsessions. Billed as "the soundtrack work of Stephen Jones," the music consists of pristine electronic tone poems, classical minimalist piano, creepy and touching vocal collages, and all sorts of perfectly timed samples and sound fragments. Disc one and disc three are astoundingly ornate, whereas disc two slows down to keep the pace varied. Lush, heavenly melodies and stunning instrumentation make for a humanistic inferno of emotional expression. Fractured, skittery notes and bombastic, pounding beats alternate with twinkling sound effects and fragile keyboards. Who knew that Jones was easily the match of similar ambient electronic artists such as Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, Four Tet, and Autechre? It seems almost ridiculous to select standout tracks, but "Arthritis Kid" deserves special mention. It's a perfect, heartwarming slice of sonic art where a young boy thanks his God for the good things in his life, and Jones manipulates the boy's singsong words via cut-and-paste techniques into something truly magical. 1985-2001 is a fascinating, genre-defining release in the realm of indie electronica. That it comes from an artist who isn't usually associated with electronic ambient music makes it all the more revelatory. It's an accessible, monumentally accomplished album fueled by the pulse of pure genius and an unerringly precise artistic vision.

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