Midnight Sound

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With Midnight Sound, their second full-length (after 1999's compilation of two early EPs called Templates), Flanger have perfected their unique brand of jazz-tronica. The duo of programmer/musicians associated with the Cologne, Germany, experimental scene, Burnt Friedman and Atom Heart, compose mostly instrumental tracks featuring traditional jazz instruments manipulated through a series of digital processors and sequencers, often supplemented by programmed rhythm tracks, to the point where it's impossible to discern where organic meets electronic. Aside from the static-like white noise intro, which dissolves into a pattern not unlike rainfall, "Nightbeat 1" could be a straightforward jazz track, where a languorous snare shuffle and minimal standup bass are sustained by the trill of a melancholy vibraphone (the instrument is ubiquitous on Flanger recordings). "Bosco's Disposable Driver" picks things considerably up with a skittery techno gallop augmented by congas, and this time it's a duel between two vibes in a Tortoise vein. The track disintegrates into the snaps and crackles of a piece of scratchy vinyl, making the listener wonder, "Is it live, or is it turntable?" Latin percussion and samba rhythms feature prominently, if somewhat surprisingly, throughout the album, but perhaps not so incongruously when their recording locale of Santiago de Chile is taken into account. A quote in the liner notes verifies the Germans' love of the South American style: "We played jazz and added the Latin flavour wherever we could." "Human Race Race" is a demonstrative example of that concept taken to its fullest when its conga and flute-driven samba races headlong into the future, where it implodes in flurry of glitched-out breakbeats and dubby delay and back again. "Nightbeat 2" breaks down completely into electronic blips and beeps, temporarily distracting the listener from the fact that this is undoubtedly a jazz record, until the somnambulant noodlings of "Stepping Out of My Dream" brings that fact back into (somewhat hazy) focus. At the midpoint of the album is a lovingly faithful yet whimsically reinvented cover of Miles Davis' "So What," with its unmistakable bassline and piano melody (here played on Rhodes and the ever-present vibes). It's the perfect homage piece to blur the line between traditional jazz and the sounds of the future.

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