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A GRAPE DOPE, "MISSING DRAGONS"

Galaxia
Showcasing his repertoire on the keyboard, sampler and mixing console under the alias of A Grape Dope, Chicago-based drummer John Herndon (Tortoise, Isotope 217) presents six new varying tracks that make up his latest EP. No stranger to the producer's chair, in recent years Herndon has provided re-mixes for other artists, while also releasing a few of his own dub-influenced compositions via the Hefty Records Immediate Action series. "Action: Showered Us" leads off the disc with its infectious live samba school-styled rhythms and muted basslines that kick the track into high gear, complete with handclaps. From the Hip Hop collective Anitcon, Dose One lends his distinct, multi-layered vocals to the bouncy "Red Hat Attack" over busy programmed machine beats, staccato low-end and near dissonant organ drones. The compositional sounds and juxtaposition of car crashes and toddlers-in-the-park themes make for an odd yet very interesting track. The disc's biggest surprise and definite highlight is the soulful ballad "I'll Spread It" which features Herndon's emotional vocoder stylings along with some tender bass and chord progressions that lilt and sway just beautifully. The underlying purr of additional electronic elements round out the composition nicely. Herndon's interesting compositional style and shifting rhythms draw from several different influences, yet still come across as distinct in their own setting. The strong, at times angular compositions on Missing Dragons should dispel the myth that drummers are only capable of counting and hitting stuff. 

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Review of the Day

Elixir, "Don't Be Scared"
Quatermass
Here is another electronic, beat-based album that plays the game of "I love it/I hate it." The atmosphere is mostly dark, the beats thick and chugging, and the melodies somehow buried inside walls of static noise and time-warped samples. There's the first problem: sometimes the melodies never get a chance to come out and play. As a result, I'm left listening to a somewhat boring, somewhat repetitive drum track that doesn't have the power to carry the song by itself. Unfortunately, the album is produced in such a way that each song inevitably has some incredible sounds on it but they're completely attenuated by the way they're thrown into the backgroud and lost beneath a plethora of effects. But then, amazingly, all that wishy-washy noise comes together for a few brief moments and gives birth to an explosion that comes close to relieving the tension and weariness of the first few minutes of the song. This is how "Flesh Wound" opens up the album and it segues into the infinitely more entertaining "Gargantuan." I imagine one of those dolls that has a slinky for a neck bopping around to this rubbery and dynamic wall of beats only to have a stick of dynamite send it into the great beyond. "Gargantuan" has nearly the same production style as "Flesh Wound," but manages to pull it off by allowing the repeating drum and melody patterns to weave a bit more intricate and diverse body of sound. "Boiled In Blood" is a bit more low-key than anything else on the album and it provides a nice break from the havoc of the first two tracks. It unfortunately gives way to more standard four-on-the-floor dance music that sounds horribly distorted and only covers up what seems to be the most interesting elements dying in the background. And so this process continues throughout the duration of Don't Be Scared. I either love it or I hate it. Not much changes in terms of production: it's all pretty muddy and eventually this makes the entire album feel far too homogenous. The formula either works for some of the songs or it doesn't. This up and down experience ends up making the whole album feel dull; it's just hard to sit down and listen to the whole thing all the way through.

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