Review Summary: Cramming songs like prank snake canisters, Basement Jaxx are the undisputed kings of maximalism.
When I was in 7th grade my parents decided I was old enough to see an R rated movie, since I felt like the last kid on earth to be granted this privilege I couldn’t afford to waste time figuring out which one to watch lest they change their mind, so I grabbed the Japanese animated movie Appleseed from the shelf of my local Blockbuster at random and darted home to watch it. At the beginning of the movie, following a tense fight in a ruined building, a wounded female soldier is loaded into an Osprey helicopter plane and whisked away to safety. As the Osprey flies through a thick blanket of clouds Kish Kash opener “Good Luck” starts to rev up, just as the intro of that song gives way to the verse the plane dips below the clouds to reveal a massive futuristic utopian city. Though I got into Basement Jaxx years after seeing the movie the image stuck with me, Kish Kash always has and always will sound like a massive cityscape where a full spectrum of emotions is filtered through Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton’s maximalist ascetic and beamed into the streets. A place where everything is neon colored, ecstasy is sold in Sweet Tart tubes, and heartbreak is sleek and stylish.
Basement Jaxx know the key to maximalism is balance. An album full of bangers like the psycho pinball machine “Right Here’s the Spot” or the 200 km/hr down the autobahn “Cish Cash” would be fun for a few spins but get exhausting. The Jaxx’s best kept secret is their way with low-key numbers. At seven and a half minutes, Kish Kash’s finale “Feels Like Home” is by far the longest song on the album but it earns every second by delicately sliding new elements into the mix throughout. Beginning with guitar beamed out of Fennesz’s Endless Summer and ending with overdriven bells and sweeping synth blasts, it’s a stunner that sounds nothing like a prototypical Basement Jaxx song would sound.
Still, Basement Jaxx pull crowds for the big tunes, and by god do they deliver the big tunes. Wasting no time, “Good Luck” opens the album with an epic tidal wave of disco strings, beatboxing, surf guitar, and the impossibly huge voice of Lisa Kekaula bidding some ex farewell. It piles on the elements until a bridge provides a moments relief before firing on all cylinders again. Of course, abusing this constant introduction of sounds would get exhausting, thankfully the Jaxx know this so on deep cut standout “Hot ‘N Cold” they let a horn sample ride and a supremely funky cowbell ride out for the duration without much alteration. Elsewhere “Tonight” contains a pulse spiking bridge that sounds like the entire album being sucked through a black hole and “Living Room” is Pepe Le Pew in hot pursuit of his reluctant love interest to the strains of spy guitar and tribal drums.
Kish Kash breathless forward momentum only lets up for one pair of tracks; “Supersonic” is a few good ideas melted in with a lot more bad ones while “Plug it In” is a shrill JC Chasez fronted mess. Neither song is bad but both are far inferior to the rest of the album and represent its only lull.
Pop and dance music doesn’t usually lend itself well to the album length format, with aimless filler surrounding the hot singles. Basement Jaxx are mayors of their candy colored city of an album, languishing attention on each and every track. From clear standouts “Good Luck” and “Lucky Star” to deep cuts like “If I Ever Recover” and “Living Room” Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe make Kish Kash a pleasure to cruise all the way through.