In the electronica boom of the late ‘90’s, genre-smashing was everywhere, sampling was ubiquitous, and with the boom in popularity of the remix, every corner of labels’ back catalogues were mined. This led to some fascinating, and often quite underrated, remix compilations- “Electro Lounge”, “Motown Remixed”, the “Verve Remixed” series, and of course electro swing which blew up into a genre that’s still going strong (divisively) to this day.
In their debut album as a duo, ambient tape loop experimenter William Basinski and his former-assistant-now-collaborator Preston Wendel have managed to create their own original compositions that feel like one of those remixed compilations. Basinski’s saxophone offers up the centrepiece for the jazz and lounge side, supplemented by extra jazz samples and the occasional guest.
Meanwhile on the electronica side, it’s often a fairly familiar array of light beats, simple acoustic-sounding bass tones and a few appropriate digital sparkles. A few choice glitches and loops offer up referential interference, breaking up the jazz sounds in mostly non-invasive ways on tracks like “To The Stars Major Tom” (which given that the album was recorded in 2016, is presumably a Bowie tribute in its title, though there’s nothing musically to indicate it).
It knits together very nicely, many times. The soft, almost belearic loungey long sax notes of “For Gato” play nicely against a slightly stuttering light rhythm. Odd time signatures nibble at the edges of the spectacularly named “10 Mmmmkayy I'm Goin' Out Now and I Don't Want Any Trouble From You!”. Final piece “No Exit” is also a highlight.
It’s not all fun and games, far from it. It lacks the playfulness and cheekiness of some of the aforementioned remix albums- it seems the novelty has worn off, as it were. Tracks like “Oh, Henry!”, with upright bass and violin from Henry Grimes, is evocative noir, with the more urgent rhythm pulling in interesting ways against the late-night seedy jazz vibe. There are definite playful moments though- Leonora Russo’s bizarre scat singing on “Queenie Got Her Blues” being one.
Longest track “To Feel” is notable as a decidedly ambient piece that adds a substantial hiatus in the middle of the album, and which leads on to the husky title track, with Xeli Grana on sparse vocals.
It’s a really interesting fresh take on “jazztronica” (if I’m allowed to use that word), with the emphasis more on the jazz part. It’s rich in quality and has an authentic feel that blends the retro and the modern, and it’s an album with a lot of character.