THE BUG: London Zoo (Ninja Tune)


Posted on Aug 7th 2008 10:52 pm

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The Bug: London Zoo

London Zoo
Ninja Tune 2008
12 Tracks. 57mins54secs

Kevin Martin is quite the musical chameleon, having played parts in the jazz-minded project God, the industrial hip-hop of Ice, and guess which genre he was producing as a collaborator with Techno Animal.  The one common thread between all of Martin’s creative phases has been a kind of abrasive-yet-cerebral hardcore.  Everything is sharp and overdriven, but the edges have more of an aesthetically tricky purpose than simply to boom out speakers for the sake of it.  For the past decade, The Bug has been Martin’s outlet for his forays into Jamaican styles, primarily focused on bizarre nightmare dub visions and violently political dancehall chant assaults.  The former dominated on 1997’s Tapping The Conversation, in which Martin (along with collaborator DJ Vadim) conceived of a new soundtrack to Francis Ford Coppola’s paranoid masterpiece of claustrophobic deception, The Conversation.  It was a fitting backdrop for an introduction to the dark, heavy, and distorted dub rhythms from The Bug.  It was also a fantastic dubstep release, appearing roughly a decade before the genre would officially get its recognition.

And there’s the catch with London Zoo, what makes it different from past Bug releases.  Unlike Conversation, or 2003’s Pressure, in which Martin expanded to include a series of singers, toasters and MCs, in 2008, he is no longer the maverick out of the blue doing this.  This doesn’t mean he isn’t still damn good at it, but some of the cuts on Zoo sound as though, faced with a new nomenclature for the music he’s been making for a while now, Martin is feeling the pressure to conform to dubstep’s evermore-conservative genre restrictions.  Thankfully, he often rejects that impulse, be as it may that recent remix work for the likes of Ghislain Poirier (whose recent release is, in itself, a lesson in how loudness and in-your-face MCing can be a flatline snooze-fest) has positioned him more toward the dubstep mainstream.

Like Pressure with the volatile Politicians and Paedophiles, Zoo puts its angriest, most political foot forward.  As an MC for the event, Tippa Irie does a decent job listing his grievances – terrorism, hurricane Katrina, global poverty – though he doesn’t quite match the discombobulated diatribe from Daddy Freddy on Paedophiles.  The comparison between Zoo and Pressure is, perhaps, inevitable: there’s plenty on this album that bangs in all the right places, and often enough the lyrics are inspired and impassioned, but it’s just not quite the arresting blindside that Pressure was.  Maybe it’s the absence of Freddy and Wayne Lonesome, the most ferociously exciting voices on Pressure, or perhaps is just that The Bug isn’t the only one anymore.

The initial semi-let down having been covered, the music here is, by and large, fantastic.  Martin has lost none of his ability or sight, and Zoo’s cuts are consistently brooding, multi-tiered messes of light and dark.  Whether it’s the juxtaposition of scratchy ambient reverb and brick-heavy bass drums on Freak Freak, the album’s lone instrumental cut, or the snapping urban nightlight jungle supporting Roger Robinson (the only vocalist from Pressure to reprise his role) and his ethereal contemplations, Zoo doesn’t have a single dud track.  The crown jewel here is Warning, featuring Flowdan, the most energetic and enigmatic toaster here, with a limerick flow that wavers between a scratchy whisper and a powerful wail.  Warning’s machine gun beats and laser sirens are undercut every four bars by an earth-shattering bass hit, before dissolving into dominant mid frequencies again.  This is the kind of less-is-terrifying productions that The Bug excels at, and Warning is destined to haunt listeners long after the album ends.  Martin reaches further into the dark abyss with the closing track, Judgment, in which Ricky Ranking dispenses his own brand of supernatural justice.

To reiterate, London Zoo is an above-average release.  It feels wholly unfair to criticize something for being so ahead of the curve that, now that the curve has caught up, it no longer sounds as unearthly (see also: Boards of Canada’s The Campfire Headphase), so I’ll just throw that out there as an observation for the reader to take or leave.  Martin could continue making grade-A dark dub and dancehall, or he might pursue yet another direction.  Knowing his track record, a dark, distorted take on Swedish techno-pop would come out brilliant.


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One Response to “THE BUG: London Zoo (Ninja Tune)”

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