Review Summary: One: the KLF are the greatest band of all time.
Two: Chill Out may be one of the greatest albums of all time (certainly top ten).
Three: anyone who disagrees with either of the above is dead inside.
Now, before the flames start flying let me justify that statement. This is a band whose performance at the NME awards with Extreme Noise Terror ended with them blasting the audience with a machine gun loaded with blanks before dumping a dead sheep at the afterparty. A band who pinned their £1,000,000 earnings to a board and offered it to a British Art gallery for £750,000 (unbelievably, this offer was turned down). Needless to say, the KLF then took this money and burnt it all in what must be the most ***ing insane artistic act since Van Gogh thought that perhaps an ear would make a great gift for a prostitute. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a band whose seminal 1990 release Chill Out
still stands as one of the greatest and most perfect ambient electronica releases ever.
In short, a band worth getting to know.
Recorded and mastered over the course of two days (and apparently recorded in one mammoth take) Chill Out
is, as its name suggests, an album for the early morning rather than the night before. It’s the sound of rosy fingered dawn emerging sleepy eyed from behind the horizon, coating existence in swathes of delicious honey and drowsy outlines of amber before playfully chasing somnolent shadows across the horizon. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense that a band active in a scene notorious for getting as close to god as chemically possible would make music like this; Chill Out
is the ultimate come down album.
Yet dismissing this as simply another early 90’s pillhead album would be the height of ignorance. You don’t need to be insufflating anything to appreciate this; the music itself is utterly sublime. Delicate waves of synths wash over percussive trains that trundle lazily through sleepy towns, punctuating brief and fragile fragments of conversation that leak out of yawning doors and slowly blinking windows. From time to time, vehement roars emanate from the open doors of a Baptist church that trembles in divine ecstasy. The KLF deserve the highest praise for painting the musical picture of places utterly alien to them, in the process creating an astounding aural soundtrack to a journey that would only ever take place on the shrouded highways of the listeners mind.
This being the good ole days before Gilbert O’Sullivan decided to ruin music, samples are inserted wholesale into the mix; Elvis on the Radio, Steel Guitar in my Soul
, which places In the Ghetto
over drifting hawaiian guitars, is particularly heart wrenching. Like all good sampling, the individual pieces combined are more than the sum of their parts; church choirs, impassioned preachers, the braying of animals and children - everyday sounds flickering by that somehow succeed in conjuring up intense visions of mysterious and magical places, lonely landscapes and lonelier people.
It’s somewhat ironic that a pair of crazy British house producers working out of a squat in the squalor of Stockwell managed to capture the myriad sounds of an America they had no experience of, portraying perfectly the emotions of people that they would never see; to my knowledge the only thing South London and the Deep South have in common is an inexplicable love of braided hair and fried chicken.