October 12, 2010
US CD/digital Metropolis MET673
UK LP/CD Hydrogen Dukebox
Jack Dangers, the mastermind behind Meat Beat Manifesto, has already established his reputation as a legendary figure in electronic music. With classic albums such as Storm The Studio, Armed Audio Warfare, Satyricon, In Dub, and 2008's Autoimmune, MBM has never stopped evolving and influencing the musical landscape. Over the course of its existence, MBM has been labeled industrial, techno, breakbeat, IDM, Acid House, Drum N' Bass, Dubstep, and more. No label seems to stick, as the music evolves with every release. With the new album, Answers Come In Dreams, Mr. Dangers once again expands on the Meat Beat Manifesto sound. Hypnotically beautiful, the album pulses with life. Digital-only deluxe version features mind-bending videos for "# Zero" and "Quietus" created by Jack Dangers himself.
Many years before it was trendy to kick around the term "industrial" or "techno" when describing electronic music with an experimental edge, driving beats and underground club appeal, Jack Dangers was twiddling knobs, patching cables and mangling samples to create dark, twisted soundscapes under the handle Meat Beat Manifesto. This year, Jack has assembled a new collection of haunting, infectious beats, mind-altering melodies and futuristic soundbites for MBM's latest project Answers Come In Dreams - which takes the sound down an even more mysterious path, blurring the lines between sound and vision so far as to produce an eccentric sci-fi/pop culture media mashup for virtually every track on the album. I took a look and a listen, and I've got the full breakdown below the fold. Read on to learn more, and witness some of the bizarro audio-visual experimentation coming from MBM's mad science lab... meat beat manifesto First, a little MBM 101: since Meat Beat Manifesto first assembled in the UK in the late '80s, they've experimented in a dozen different musical genres - including industrial (Storm the Studio), high-energy techno (99%), dance-oriented electronica (Satyricon), dub (Autoimmune) and even jazz (At The Center). Their ability to bounce back and forth between styles while maintaining dance-floor appeal got them a short-lived deal with Trent Reznor's former label Nothing Records (they had also previously opened for Nine Inch Nails during their first tour) and led to a series of NIN remixes including "The Perfect Drug." Since then, MBM tracks have found their way into The Matrix and Underworld series, and even in the oddball "Josh's Blair Witch Mix" tie-in CD to The Blair Witch Project. Since around 2005, Jack and company have integrated multi-screen video into their live music presentations in some revolutionary new ways, triggering video clip montages on the fly as they mix and mash sounds and samples, morphing and mutating the background images in real-time. Recently they've also started to repackage that experience in their music videos, and in the weeks leading up to today's release of Answers Come In Dreams, MBM began unveiling the first batch of promo clips using this technique. Here's one kinda creepy example, using a cut-up video approach for the track "Totally Together": The tracks themselves are mainly constructed around a core of catchy percussion that doesn't so much make you want to dance as draw you relentlessly into a hypnotic state. It's no surprise that Jack and company incorporate so many fast-moving hallucinogenic images into their videos and performances, since this underlying electronic pulse seems to loosen up your mind to wild visual stimulus. Most of the tracks begin as moody, dreamlike ambient pieces but often take a sudden 180 into chunky dub beats or mid-tempo drum 'n' bass grooves, with little flickers of eerie samples, robotic vocals and sparkly synth textures sprinkled on top. It's a very simple formula, but it definitely sets a mysterious mood if you turn off the lights and ease into it. meat beat manifesto "Luminol" opens the album with deep, heavy and slow beats which lay the groundwork for an enveloping cloud of swirling chimes and radio static; this hypno-groove is the norm for much of the record, driving trip-hop-style cuts like "Let Me Set," which has a strange worm-like crawling feel, broken only by sudden outbursts of vocal samples (mainly the three words of the title). More heavy beats permeate "Waterphone", which features the distinctive sound of the title instrument being filled and played, creating an otherworldly bowed metallic tone that feels like chimes being played underwater. "Mnemonic" derives the same energy from retro-electro percussion, which clicks along steadily as a low buzzing bass pattern is cloned into multiple layers of fuzzy distortion. There are also several free-form, abstract-sounding pieces on Answers, often venturing into the dark ambient domain: "M.Y.C." is all deep drones, low bell-tones and cavernous winds, before a strange robotic voice creeps into the mix, announcing the beginning of a mid-tempo drum & bass loop, as brighter chimes and samples flicker in and out; "Token Words" dishes up a thick soup of vocal samples in a swirling echo-chamber of cosmic drones. But it's not all navel-gazing mood music: there's some frantic club-friendly grooves here - like "#Zero," an old school sci-fi jam of Dr. Who blips, bleeps and burbles mixed with silky voice samples, propelled by a simple but powerful kick pattern. "010130" has a light and jumpy rhythm that's one of the most energetic on the album, making it kind of disappointing that it's only one minute long. But the coolest entries here manage to balance moody atmospherics and heavy grooves in just the right proportions: "Quietus" comes off as a tension-filled horror soundtrack cue, complete with eerie backward choirs, ghostly whispers and deep drones, all smashed up in a chunky dub-step groove; warm electronic insect buzzing sets the stage for some unsettling samples in "Zenta!" including a witch-like cackle and chopped-up advertising slogans; "Please" presents the first and only touch of guitar on this record - but don't get too used to it, because it's quickly stomped flat by a gargantuan bass line. The album ends on a suitably cinematic note with "Chimie Du Son," which opens with analog synths reminiscent of the groundbreaking Forbidden Planet score, then brings in a simple slow beat along with more sci-fi effects and jittery machine noises. The song eventually deconstructs into its individual parts, then tears the parts down into digital grit. Being a more experimental venture, Answers Come In Dreams is a little hard to pigeonhole, especially since Dangers has managed to integrate all of the dozens of musical styles he's absorbed over the years, chopping them up and pasting them together in a constantly-evolving flow of beats, textures and moods that are too intense to be straight chill-out music... but there's an unsettling, dangerous feeling oozing through many of these cuts that puts just a little fear into the mix. If you're reading this, then there's a fair chance you'd consider that a very good thing. - Gregory S. Burkart, Fear Net
Electro pioneers, Meat Beat Manifesto, has produced an album of dark intensity but does its industrial minimalism work as an aural experience or is it simply a sparse confusion of sound? Never one to shy away from musical evolution and reinvention, Meat Beat Manifesto's Jack Dangers has once again shunned conventional wisdom for the band's latest release. Over the years MBM has embraced a multitude of genres from techno to hip-hop, jungle to rock with even a little dubstep thrown in, so it should come as no surprise to learn that once again Dangers has moved in a new direction. Answers Come In Dreams is a stripped down album of minimalist, industrial electro beats, though it must be said, even the beats are few and far between. Opening track, "Luminol", is 6 minutes of almost nothing. A slow electronic whirring grinds away at your soul, punctuated only by the lethargic one-two of snare and bass drum. A pause after 2 minutes and on it plods, like a sullen teenage metronome, carrying on only because it has been forced to. Less than 3 minutes into the entire album and you're already crying out for something to happen. It's not until "M.Y.C", that the album appears to wake from its self-imposed slumber and even that comes after a full 3 minutes of more minimalist electro warbling. Finally there is a beat worthy of the name, and there, just after 4 minutes is something approaching a melody. This may all appear to be overly picky and fastidious but it is necessary to understand just how far back the sound has been stripped. Something which Dangers is well aware of, "I don't feel like this is a new direction, it's just an extension of my sound. Maybe it's more minimal than previous records - that was a conscious decision because I am making a video for each song more or less." And therein lies both the answer and the rub, by concentrating on the video as much as the audio Dangers has, perhaps inadvertently, created an album that should not be listened to so much as watched. The presence of a visual accompaniment would no doubt add something to those tracks that are so desperately in need of enhancing, as well as embellishing those that were quite clearly designed to be the score to something larger. "Waterphone" and "Token Words", for example, have a particularly cinematic feel to them. Though it is a difficult album to get into, there are rewards hidden within for those brave enough, or foolhardy, to persevere with it. "# Zero" is the audio equivalent of epilepsy inducing cartoons, all fast paced electro-beeping (think R2-D2 on speed) layered over pounding, throbbing bass and enough random yet sequential numbers to have the cast of Lost begging for mercy. "Zenta!" too is a highlight, sounding dirty and psychotic in equal measure. Dark and protruding, intense and dramatic, this is the track you'd hear in your head should you ever have an 'episode'. It's a feeling that is not uncommon in the final quarter of the album. "Please" in particular is a visceral, industrial assault on the senses yet it is laced with soothing, otherworldly synth sounds that calm you before the final, brutal attack finishes you off, left to wonder what might have been if only the album started as well as it finished. - Adam Hill, 411Mania
One piece of sage advice from the film Inception was to never recreate places in dreams from memory, but to always imagine new places. Artists of all stripes are capable of finding their muses in the strangest locations, and it seems longtime electronic act Meat Beat Manifesto recently stumbled upon that filmic aphorism or something like it. They use it on Answers Come in Dreams to bring a startling and effective stylistic transformation more than 20 years after their founding to fruition. It was merely suggested at points during Meat Beat's Wax Trax! and Elektra Records days. It was remix window-dressing; it was tasty seasoning on 2008's Autoimmune. "It" is bandleader Jack Dangers' fascination with dub, and joined by ex-Consolidated maestro Mark Pistel in this iteration of MBM he lets it blossom throughout Answers Come in Dreams. This is straight-up digital Rastafari shit right here, its DNA flecked with Prince Jammy, Mad Professor, Deadbeat, and The Orb. Many songs are heavyweight fights between conceits from reggae and industrial. "Let Me Set" pits shuffling hypnotic beats and toasters' vocal riffs vs. eerie, minor-key buzzes and moans that belie Pistel and Dangers' pedigree. "Mnemonic" has its uptempo rhythms run through a distortion filter. And before you ask: No, we're not talking about another dubstep album, thank heavens. Frankly, tracks like "Waterphone"—with its pounded-out three-beat and its clanging, warbling synth abstractions—dares to imagine new musical places, filling in the spaces so proudly emptied by dubsteppers. And somehow, through the haze, there are still clear indications of MBM's former selves. When tracks hit like powerhouse "#Zero," curious vocal exercise "Quietus," or metallic soundscape "Token Words," they manage to remind us of Dangers' salad days. The found vocal samples, the complicated, atonal keyboard runs, the rhythms full of tinny treble, the pinging beeps cistern-deep and full of delay—amazingly all still here, in these places in Dreams made from memory, and all reminiscent of the outfit's prior peaks. (See: "Storm the Studio," Satyricon.) This could easily have sounded like a collection of dubplates of other Meat Beat Manifesto songs. From the backward-looking interlude "010130" to the squishy epic "Chimie Du Son," Answers Come in Dreams is instead both an unexpected joy and a logical progression. - Jammy Princess, MXDWN
Jack Dangers has been bitten by the dubstep bug and there are no two ways about it. Answers Come in Dreams finds the long time innovator giving in to (or perhaps trying out) the style du jour for a strange distillation of his own sound. This happened once before when Meat Beat Manifesto released a new version of "Helter Skelter" with a jungle tinge and then turned in a remix of Nine Inch Nails' "Perfect Drug" that proved that Dangers could tap into the reigning dance culture when he wasn't busy creating it. But Answers Come in Dreams is a different story. At a time when dubstep has bubbled over the rim of the underground to become the inevitable hotness for a while, the purpose of a new record from Meat Beat Manifesto that plays by the dubstep rules is a little hard to understand. Meat Beat Manifesto is, after all, one of the progenitors of dubstep. Tracks like "Lucid Dream" from Subliminal Sandwich or pieces of Storm the Studio from all the way back in 1989 anticipate the slowed-down, dub-infused spacious stomp of contemporary dubstep. There's no doubt in my mind that Dangers' music played a role in paving a way for the wobble, so the inevitable question that Answers Come in Dreams keeps raising is "why does this record sound so little like Meat Beat Manifesto?" Answers Come in Dreams features plenty of Meat Beat trademarks and sample callbacks, to be sure. A beat from "Spinning Round Dub" (off of 2004's RUOK in Dub) surfaces on "M Y C;" the wonderful "let me have silence" spoken piece shows up in "Token Words;" "Melt" recycles a bit of the "Radio Baylon" bassline; and the analog filtered percussion and squelchy synths on "# Zero" and "010130" sound familiar. But the album features many more tracks like the opener "Luminol" or the lfo-addled "Let Me Set" that are almost completely void of Dangers' usual charm. Throughout, the record contains dreamy whispers of the Meat Beat sound that float deep in the background like lost radio transmissions. An occasional synth note or bubbly ambiance or waterphone drone will remind me that Dangers is in there somewhere, perhaps lost and even trying to escape from dubstep's droll plodding. But those moments are so fleeting and washed out that the whole thing feels like a dubstep remix of a Meat Beat record that could have been produced by someone else. Gone is almost all of the humor and playfulness that has been a stable of Meat Beat records since, well, always. If all of that sounds like I'm very down on the album, I'm not. It is on its own terms a fantastic subwoofer workout and a near-perfect distillation of Meat Beat into bass and space. There are enough distorted drum breaks, spooky sonic backdrops, and waves of wobbly and overdriven low end to keep me more than happy. Jack trades in his bass guitar (for the most part) in favor of deep 808 blasts and heavy synth rumble that will not make sense at all if you aren't listening with a decent sub, and I love all of that. The beats are stripped down and the patterns in everything are simplified to give the bass room to breathe. While that takes away most of the beautiful rhythmic complexity that Meat Beat is known for, the approach is still effective here in eliciting a head nod. In fact, I tire of most dubstep so quickly that it's nice to have something that gives the low frequencies a bashing while still injecting tiny, fleeting fragments of the familiar. V/VM (recording as The Caretaker) released a six CD box set a few years back that was inspired by the scene in The Shining where Jack Nicholson is wandering around in the old hotel ballroom and he hears the faint, ghostly melodies of a party that has long-since ended. Answers Come in Dreams feels like that to the rest of the Meat Beat catalog. It's full of half-remembered dreams and barely-recognizable fragments of Meat Beat carried on the wind and blown through empty hallways, that have somehow drifted into a dubstep party that is taking place in that empty ballroom. It's less of Dangers coming back to show the young kids how it's done and more of a seasoned pioneer playing in someone else's playground for a spell. I don't know if the dubstep die hards are going to take to a record that doesn't feel quite as up-to-the-minute as that scene requires: new sub-styles seem to come and go every fortnight. Still, Answers Come in Dreams is a dark and bass-heavy grind that benefits from Dangers' impressive ability to wring depth out of space. - Matthew Jeanes, Brainwashed