Review Summary: Do you like James Bond? The Matrix? Or maybe you’re a closet Shirley Bassey fan? You’ll find it all here
‘Propellerheads’ are a pair of British producers who dabble in various genres but truly shine when working together to produce electronica/big-beat tracks. ‘Decksandrumsandrockandroll
’ is their only full album to date and the pair have ‘ummed’ and ‘ahhed’ about producing a follow-up ever since. A real shame, because as far as debuts go, it’s an extremely eclectic and enjoyable record. It definitely doesn’t sound like a first effort.
Shamefully, I must admit that I once thought there were genres I couldn’t get into, no matter how hard I tried. Around the late 90s, I avoided clubs that played big-beat like the plague. “What is there to like about that
?” I thought. “It’s too repetitive, not enough variety, blah blah blah”, before heading home to wallow in the comfortable snugness of Tangerine Dream. Fortunately, a good friend threw this album at me, and I was hooked. The duo cook up a selection of polyrhythmic bounce fests and laidback swingers, with added electronic elements for good measure, and quirky vocal samples giving it a subtly humorous air. Most noticeably, you come away from the album with the same feeling that you’d get if you watched the world’s biggest action/adventure/West coast road trip/high-tech/chase-scene/spy movie.
Even if you’ve never heard their name (slang term for geek), I can pretty much guarantee you’ve heard at least one track here already. Example? The last track, ‘Spybreak!
' was famously played during the ‘lobby’ scene in “The Matrix
”, where Neo and Trinity obliterate the entrance hall guards with their handy, fit-it-in-your-pocket arsenal. Pacy, dramatic, ultra-tech; it’s always the kind of song you want on your MP3 player. ‘Cominagetcha
' is similarly paced, but far darker, with heavily processed horns and minor keys giving a very dark effect indeed. It’s the perfect song for when the bad guys are catching up.
Of course, Neo is nothing compared to the epitome of stylishness/smugness, Mr. James Bond himself. Clocking in at well over nine minutes long, their cover of ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
’ is helped along by David Arnold’s orchestra. It’s still full of edgy beats and electronic pumps, but those strings that soar over it all make it a suitably grandiose highpoint of the album. As if that wasn’t enough, though, they reinforce the Bond theme even more by dragging Miss Shirley Bassey herself into the studio to contribute full vocals to an updated version of ‘History Repeating
’. She’s on fine form, and the boys add suitably jazzy pianos and bass effects, not to mention trumpets straight out of the smokiest of smoke-filled American jazz bars. I guarantee that it’ll become the latest addition to your ‘guilty pleasures’ playlist.
Elsewhere, there’s still much to admire. ‘Echo And Bounce
’ does exactly what it says on the tin, with squelchy sounds bopping all over the place, froglike belches and a weird, distorted chipmunk voice gurgling “Echo and bounce”
often enough to be quirky but not so much that it gets annoying. A very unique track, then. ‘Oh Yeah?
’ starts off with the curious sound of a skater going up and down a ramp, before an extremely chilled-out set of beats remind you of early evening in the urban jungle. ‘Bang On!
’ is a Klaxons song eight years early, all squealing electronic whirrs and crackling background static, at an insane pace. ‘Velvet Pants
’ is wonderfully housey, a cool four-note piano piece tinkling throughout it while the vocals are supplied here and there by a bimbo professing “...I REVOLVE around music; that’s all I know…” before admitting she only likes the music scene because, “…everybody has long hair…”.
Not all tracks are quite worthy of praise. Some, like ’Winning Style
’ or ‘Better?
’ are a little too
easy-going, which is ironic because they don’t really go anywhere anyway; they meander about too much. Also, ‘A Number Of Microphones
’ is just silly, though I'll concede it's pretty funny, a guy beatboxing far too close to the mike, while a 1940s-style well-spoken Englishman passes comments like “Uh-hum….how extraordinary…I see…” in a manner of over-the-top politeness and British reserve. But they’re really the only missed targets on this album. As I said before, it’s a rather filmic-sounding experience, and serves as a good example of just how original and varied big-beat can be. If you’re not into the genre, don’t be put off. You'd be missing out on a very interesting and utterly cool-sounding album.