B.J. Cole

Trouble in Paradise

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Pedal steel ace B.J. Cole's Trouble in Paradise picks up where Stop the Panic, his collaboration with Luke Vibert, ended; it is another step toward the futurist exotica he began seeking on 1995's Heart of the Moment. Here he teams with a slew of DJs -- Groove Armada, Trash Palace, Fluid, Kumo, Banknote Rajah, Vibert, Laura B -- and other musicians; he gets further, deeper, harder, stranger on an aural road trip into the desperate side of the tourist travel paradise. It's like waking into a weird dream where everything is supposed to be fine, supposed to be groovy and relaxing, but is somehow freakish and even a bit frightening, but one can't figure out why. This isn't space-age bachelor pad music; it's more like tiki longue noir for the Blade Runner fan. It sits right in the speakers -- or better yet, oh so cool high-end headphones. Trash Palace kicks some restrained sound effects and cheap drum machine loops and breakbeats into the mix as Cole's pedal steel becomes an elastic band of sound that doesn't whine so much as snicker. "The Interloper" hosts Fluid, with his library of sampled loops of Indian percussion. Cole gets downright funky before the fully synthetic breaks pop in and a saxophone begins soloing somewhere in the background as spooky laughter and conversation float in and around the proceedings. It's creepy cool. A3 offers a vocal for the distorted pedal steel deep-toned loops in "Are You Ready for Some Country." (This could the new Sopranos if Tony and company relocated to the South Pacific.) The track has no country music in it, but is more in line with a hard-bitten, hard-billed future blues. Longtime keyboard and sequencing partner Guy Jackson is here helping out almost everywhere, and drum boss Neil Conti does so on the silvery, mercurial late-night lonesome of "Downtown Motel Blues," with a vocal by Geoff McIntire (aka Dempsey). Conti's rim shot kit work was processed into a killer loop and processed by Brian Eno. Cole's steel is strictly the atmospheric in this pre-dawn high lonesome as a harmonica whines through the edges, bringing to mind the Western scores of Morricone. Kumo's "East of Eden," with its live tables, sampled Jackson's keyboards, including a wonderful part for Cole's pedal steel processed to sound like a sitar, and Ben Davies' haunted cello is one of the most delightful things here. In all, Trouble in Paradise is a nice ride, a small sonic escape, a pleasant little nightmare that echoes -- in terms of feel -- the records of Stan Ridgway, though it's a steamier, more international kind of future blues. Cole's idiosyncratic and records infrequently. Trouble in Paradise is a weird stop in aural no man's land.

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