B12: Last Days Of Silence (B12 Records)

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Posted on May 31st 2008 04:28 pm

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B12: Last Days Of Silence

B12
Last Days Of Silence
B1219
B12 Records 2008
18 Tracks. 103mins34secs

Nothing endures in music quite like a mystery. Unreleased albums, unexplained break-ups – what we don’t know about a band often helps to define them as much as what we do. And the mysterious disappearance of B12 from the music scene ten years ago is a perfect case in point. Their silence since 1998, when they vanished from Warp with an EP ready for release, has forced fans ever since to pore endlessly over the back catalogue in the assumption that that was it. So the decision of English duo Mike Golding and Steve Rutter to return now will inevitably trigger questions about their lost decade. And alongside the anticipation, the big question many will of course be asking is: was it worth the wait?

The answer is perhaps not as straightforward as it should be. On the one hand, the duo rarely put a foot wrong over the eighteen tracks that make up this, their third album. And for many fans, that will be the end of the matter. Yet in a sense it is not the quality of the record that is really at issue here. Instead, what some will be wondering is: why now? Because, having found success in the 1990s when their Detroit techno sound was enjoying a renaissance, they return in 2008 to a different musical environment.

Of course, even at their time of prominence, they were not without their critics. A look at the liner notes of Warp’s Artificial Intelligence II shows some thought the band were already offering little more than a pastiche of Detroit era sonics back in 1994. But to many in the UK, their take on the Motor City sound was the only one available in the shops – and came with some smart twists on the established formulas.

In marking their return, however, they had two quite distinct options open to them – neither of them without hazards. Stick to the sound of old and they risked irrelevance. But try for something new and it could all go horribly wrong. In the end, it is perhaps no surprise that they opted for the former. And that in itself will be enough for many fans.

The opener, a remix of Electro-Soma’s Hall Of Mirrors, tries to start things off on the right foot by bringing in classical crossover producer Digitonal to boost the string-to-drums ratio. It’s a brave move, mixing subtle techno squelches beneath a string section, but it feels forced – and somewhat mawkish. Once this is out of the way, we move into more comfortable territory for the duo, the slick, quick bass-heavy techno of Magnetic Fields, one of the six tracks here to have been released on two limited edition twelve inches on B12 Records last year. All six are of a piece in a way, putting different twists on the same basic idea – hard, fast beats, a clinical bass-line and ghostly, ethereal strings. It works up to a point, but has been done many times before – even by B12 themselves.

Elsewhere, One could have been lifted directly from the Time Tourist album of 1996, although it is the most effective track on the album – and teasingly short with it. Moreover, it is this piece that underlines the talent that B12 undoubtedly still have – adding to the sense of frustration that they kept quiet for so long. Rich, frenetic melodies overlay one another, caught up in warm sonic waves, before the track suddenly shudders to a halt. Beyond Reason and Isolation On Demuba also make an impact, with drifting melodies reverberating around desolate space-scapes.

Perhaps it is nothing new in the end. But it is frankly unfair to dismiss this record because it sounds like the B12 we already know. It is, at bottom, a decent, very playable record that deserves to be assessed on its own merits. And while it might show up the increasing sense of separation between our time and the era in which British electronic music came of age, B12 can hardly be held responsible for that. No, this is a good record, and one that will allow many fans to awake from their deep nostalgic reveries.

3.9/5

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3 Responses to “B12: Last Days Of Silence (B12 Records)”

  1. themilkmanon 01 Jun 2008 at 7:22 pm

    I must admit that, after a few listens, this album doesn’t seem to be as memorable as Electro-Soma or Time Tourist. It all sounds really good, but there’s a lack of great melodies I think, which means that the album overall feels a bit empty. Quite a shame really.

  2. Dave Con 21 Dec 2008 at 4:46 pm

    Have to say I agree, a definite lack of depth to this album and a distinct lack of wanting to return to it after each play. Since buying one of the limited edition copies back at the time of release, I have expected something further to ‘click’ with this album but its just not happening… an absolute shame as I had expected much more from their return. In saying that, the more recent Remixes release is a better stab at a return and maybe should be considered as just that.

  3. themilkmanon 23 Dec 2008 at 8:44 am

    I think this is really highlighted more when you listen to the B12 Archive albums which really put the more recent stuff to shame. But, very much like you, I enjoy the remix album much more as it has much more of that B12 touch about it.