Thursday, March 10, 2011

Meat Beat Manifesto-"Answers Come In Dreams": An Electronic Music Production Textbook

What does the master of electronic music production do after nearly 25 years of transforming the sound of music? The Master becomes a teacher and produces the ultimate audio textbook. Jack Dangers, Meat Beat Manifesto's one man act, has done it all from New Wave, Industrial, Hip-Hop, Jungle, Dub and Techno music. With such an impressive resume, there really wasn't much left for Dangers to do. Indeed, with MBM's 1996's classic Subliminal Sandwich album, Jack Dangers had nothing left prove. So he decided to release Answers Come In Dreams.

Answers Come In Dreams is MBM's best album since 1996. Answers is a paradox on many levels. On one hand, there really isn't anything new on offer musically speaking. As always, Answers is another recording of recycled beats and samples which became the trademark of MBM. The beats are typical Jack Dangers beats. The beat is important, hence the reason for the name of the band. When it comes to songwriting composition, Answers simply retreads old and familiar territory.

On the other hand, Answers shows the best of Dangers as a producer and sound engineer. Really, no other producer is able to construct and engineer sound as Jack Dangers. Dangers' strength was never as a songwriter. That's not to say that he's an incompetent or poor songwriter. That would be libel to say so. It was always his extraordinary skills on the soundboard along with his manipulation  of analogue and digital recording devices which propelled Meat Beat Manifesto to the heights of electronic music. Answers is Jack Dangers the audio scientist at his very best.

Answers is a dark album, which is approbiate for the times, without being heavy. The opening track "Luminol" recalls the early days of MBM pariticulary Armed Audio Warfare tracks such as "I Got The Fear" and "Kneel and Buzz". There is a nostaligia feel to the track recalling 80's British industrial acts such as Cabaret Voltaire combined with noise music acts such as Controlled Bleeding. With its dark soundscapes and droning pounding basslines, Luminol presents a feeling of foreboding. It also recalls some of the work by DJ Spooky, where I  suspect where it was sampled from. The beat is raw and gutteral. The listener isn't sure if the album will be a nightmare or if it will turn into gothic dance.

"Mnemonic" as a title is word play of the sound of the music: minimum electronic. Staying on the dark side, this track employs minimum ambient music with scracthes and choppy beatboxing. This is the most technical track of the album. Though the beats are slow, there are at least half a dozen different beats packed in. Dangers turns the measure of beats per minute on its head. There are probably 200 beats within each minute of the track but the tempo never surpasses 120 BPM. Listening to the beats is painstaking particulary if one is a producer. The tedious minute intensity that went into producing the beats is evident. Dangers shows how it's done but like reading a manuaul for the hydraulics of a jumbo jet, one must put in maximum effort to pay attention. This is made harder by the subtle droplets of dozens of other sounds sprinkled and layered above and within the body of music. It's a deceptively simple song. The finished product comes across as minimal but it's an extremely complicated work technically.

"M.Y.C" begins as desolate and forlorn. One feels alone deep in space in the remote corner of the universe millions of light years from the nearest star. Dangers dusts off some 1970s analog equipment and mimics the vocals of Kraftwert's Uranium. After three and half minutes of this, the beats arrive like a rescue craft. They are slowed down Drum n' Bass beats. Dangers picks up the bass guitar and plays a toned down re-arrangement of his 1989 classic Radio Babylon. The music oscillators and compressors top off the song sending the message of good news back to earth. The lost kosmonaut has been found and they are heading home.

"Let Me Set" picks up from where M.Y.C left off. The beats are emphasized. The electronic percussion sound banks are accentuated. The hi-hat does a funky dance. Samples from Subliminal Sandwich are lifted and employed for atmosphere.

# Zero is the best track off the album. It's nothing less than a tribute to Kraftwerk. The samples from their "Chrono" track from Tour De France are blatantly obvious. To cover his ass, Dangers mixes in samples again from Subliminal Sandwich, this time from "The Utterer". # Zero is the only enhanceable track on the album. Still, it isn't a track that a DJ would play in a club unless mixing it with another track.

"Quietus" takes the album back to sleep. This is a track best suited for parents and nursery school teachers to convince children to take a nap or go to bed. Conversely it's the ideal track to play when finding heading to bed after a long night of partying. Dangers has always experimented with hypnosis through music and he does it best here. It's the only track where you hear Dangers' voice.  It appears that Dangers has retired from singing. "Quietus" is the ambient track par excellence.

"Token Words" takes the listener back to space. It's the most unsettling track on the album. Dangers took the recordings of planet Saturn which were recently captured by the Cassini probe. The sounds from Saturn are rather spooky. He also takes samples from 2001: A Space Odyssey and mixes them with the sounds from Saturn. Dangers retreats the sounds of Saturn by flattening and stretching them out. To emphasize the vacuum and emptiness of space, Dangers uses production techniques to make the sounds as hollow as possible.

"Waterphone" is the weakest track and doubly unfortunate, it's the longest on the album. The flaw stems from the over emphasis of production and audio engineering at the expense of songwriting. One appreciates the experimental sounds and Dangers' production techniques. However, this track can be interpreted as the the most difficult chapter of the textbook of electronic production which Answers Comes In My Dreams is. The production and engineering blueprint boggles the mind. More than halfway through, the beats pick up and the listener is able to relax somewhat. It turns out to be only a temporary reprieve as the mind twisting sounds return. Dangers has always prided himself as a sound mind bender but he overreaches on Waterphone.

"010130" is the shortest track which sounds as if it was a leftover scrap from the recording sessions and thrown on the album since it would have been a waste to throw away.

"Zenta!" is another weak track simply because of its repetitiveness though the songwriting is better than Waterphone. The highlight is the sample taken from The Smiths song "Rubber Ring" which a female voice says: "You are sleeping. You do not want to believe. You are sleeping."

"Please" is entitled so because Jack Dangers wants to inflict as much mental anxiety on the listener until they beg "please no more."

The last track "Chimie du Son" serves as the round up review chapter for the textbook. It's the best track for both its songwriting and production. Jack Dangers makes the point that he has taken the listener to school. It's the perfect summation for the entire album. Answers Come In Dreams is an advanced course in electronic music.

Therein lies the ultimate paradox of the album. It's greatest triumph is its ultimate weakness. While Answers Come In Dreams is a must for anyone wanting to learn how to become an electronic producer, as well a continuing education for experienced ones, it is not accessible to the average consumer of music. Young people today into Goa and Carl Cox will find Answers boring as hell. Other listeners will be put off and alienated from the techie sound of the album. Sadly, most people won't care or notice that it's a masterpiece of sound production and engineering.

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