Ken Ishii

Metal Blue America

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A pricey import from Ken Ishii, the respected spearhead of Japanese techno. This time out, Ishii incorporates several elements of the States, without taking on much of their warmth. Metal Blue America, like his other releases, spreads out a dense layer of sound that disorients as it drives forward, steering away from the typical conventions of electronica. As a result, the album seems to be the artist's interpretation of America, rather than his imitation of it. "Butter Bump," "Jet 'n' Rush," and a half-dozen others are all up-tempo "red alerts" of rhythms, brazen keyboard trigonometry, and clipped drum loops that alternate between funk, jungle, and something like "rock" (including guitar noise). "Super Fly" is, at its core, a synth-propelled hip-hop blues number surrounded by revving motors and electric mosquitos. This track actually comes the closest to sounding like someone else; perhaps in the jazzy spirit of Jake Slazenger or a whacked-out Luke Vibert, following a noodly and nerdy keyboard melody through dry grooves. Again, for all the earthy and pseudo-familiar sounds sputtering about from track to track, the overall effect is still quite sterile. This defining characteristic of Ishii is what made Jelly Tones such a successful and mysterious album, but Metal Blue America's Western-influenced samples seem only to get in the way. The limited-edition packaging is typical high-quality Japanese creativity (courtesy of Katsuhiko Kimura), with various sliding sleeves and a computer Braille motif studded into the glossy red case. Along with a bonus track (the aggressive yet basic "Drummelter"), the album doubles as a CD-ROM with a dizzying array of video excerpts, discography, and little bits of multi-media to customize your computer if you so desire. Unfortunately, all the extra bells and whistles don't make the music more approachable and, following the irony further, Metal Blue America has yet to see a U.S. release date. In the end, this is a wonderful product that looks better than it sounds.