Review Summary: Upbeat, triumphant and a downright enjoyable slice of electronica that recalls the good times and the chilled times.
Barely one year old and Scottish record label, Herb Recordings, finds itself at the forefront of cutting edge electronica and ambient music. 2006 saw an remarkable amount of releases from compilations featuring Herb's roster to individual albums from the likes of Solipsism, BitBin and Cheju. 2007 promises to be even better for Herb, not only will their releases be available on CD, but some of their strongest artists will be unleashing new material into the music world.
Glasgow-based duo, Rubens, fall into this catergory having been with Herb almost from the outset. They have been locked away in their studio for most of 2006, honing their album "Carnivalesque", on occasions completely re-working tracks from scratch. It is this sort of attention to detail that makes this a triumphant debut.
At their best, Rubens truly connects with some outstanding slices of uptempo electronica. "Bank Holiday", for example, makes use of snappy, incessant beats reminiscent of "Crystal"-era Autechre. But much like the album title suggests, there is a playful nature to the music and "Bank Holiday" draws on a wonderful, infectious melody too. The duo themselves claim the album is a balance of upbeat, head-nodding melodic electronic sounds and sombre downtempo music. They are most defintely at their strongest when they let loose with their uptempo, innovative beat patterns. "Breaking Into A Smile" reinforces the attention to deatil aspects of the various production techniques on "Carnivalesque" (believe me, there is a staggering amount of programmes used here). A driving rhythm , forcefully propels this song forward as a festival style melody plays away in the background. The duo's long slog in the studio has paid off, with the subtle production nuances very apparent here.
The anthemic, 10-minute long "Ferris Wheel" provides another highlight and brings things down several notches for a couple of minutes. But more inventive drum pattenrs are introduced, becoming a real hallmark on "Carnivalesque". Again it recalls early Autechre, but they never produced anything as sweet-sounding as this.
The moodily infectious "Giraffe" shows Rubens from a different angle, with dulcet tones that have an immediate calming effect. This track represents the best of the downtempo, sombre work. I can imagine putting "Giraffe" on in the early hours of the morning, soaking in its laid-back grooves and ambient cloud .
But again it’s those more upbeat numbers that really hit home. “Puggies” (Scottish slang for a fruit machine) seems to capture the excitement of being at a carnival. It recalls, all of the attributes of a festival atmosphere. The flashing lights, the pounding music, the noise from the machines and the joyous expressions on people’s faces. It drives forward from the word go and refuses to let go.
The penultimate track, “Winter Broth” seems to blend both Rubens’ upbeat nature and their and their laid-back leanings and this massive sounding track provides a satisfying end to the album. “Carnivalesque” was intended to be an album of “ head-nodding melodic electronic music”, every box is checked with regards to that statement, making this a fine debut from the Rubens team and another goal for Herb Recordings.