Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Revamp, renew (2 of 6)

Ocosi - Hear and Loathing
Manifold / Economy Records

In the early 1990s, several British labels (including Mo’Wax and Ninja Tune) began releasing music that veered sharply away from the disintegrating acidhouse movement. This new, downtempo style had more in common with the breakbeat sounds of American hiphop than the 4-on-the-floor smiley face of house, but was far more experimental that either, pairing the cut up rhythms and breaks with sounds that tipped their hat more to the ambient music experiments of Brian Eno and Klause Schulze than to the funk and soul of James Brown and Sly Stone. Perhaps sighting this atmospheric, trippy approach, the British music press christened the new style “trip hop” and bands like Portishead, Tricky, and Morcheeba where chosen as its standard bearers, along with Massive Attack, who’s 1991 release Blue Lines is often sighted as the first trip hop album.

Further genre splintering ensued as the style progressed. More elements of jazz, funk, and soul began to appear in the music of bands that bore the trip hop label, but the generally relaxed, slightly stoned feeling remained. Some musicians chose to emphasize this light, trippy feeling, while others continued to experiment with the darker edge which lay just beneath the surface of the feel good chill out. It is through this latter experimentation that dark hop was spawned and, as of this writing, Ocosi is one of that genre’s most talented and cutting edge practitioners.

Ocosi is the brainchild of UK-based noise and beats crafter Paul Molyneux. Having left what he calls "a sonicnoise Skullflower meets Godflesh vs Ministry type unit" in 1997, Paul met a likeminded artist in Simon Smerdon. Paul recalls, "We hit it off musically and we both had warped senses of humour, so that helped." The pair released their first full-length album, [In], the following year. This released was based on organic grooves and deep, near subsonics. 1999 saw the release of Horchata/Ocosi, a collaborative effort with New Hampshire’s dark side musicologist Horchata. The duo contributed tracks to various compilations during 2000, but by 2001, "differences in direction" had come to a head and Simon left to pursue solo work as Mothboy. 2001’s Guided featured some material from Simon, but by this point, Ocosi was Paul Molyneux’s alone. 2002’s release Hear and Loathing reinforces this, showing a man with a singular vision.

This ten track CD takes the broad and sweeping tones of classic trip hop and crushes them into claustrophobic and eerie shudders and static, creating a sonic fog through which indistinct shapes fade in and out of view. Stout beats assail you, heavy on the snare, while thick bass rumbles slither in and out of time. Glitchy pops and wiggles careen over dub timed sound pieces. What at first appears repetitive soon becomes hypnotic, yet a careful listen reveals constant, subtle changes in the underlying structures of the songs. There is a pervasive feel of something unsettling, as if the murk would suddenly part, revealing… who knows?

Hear and Loathing is dark hop at its most experimental. Songs like "Insex", a 45 second organized chaos of static based glitch, border on antimusic, sounding as if a swarm of robot cockroaches were caught in your ear canal. "Quat" morphs and distorts a simple beat into something altogether more sinister, all the while encircling the rhythm with distant drones and blurred, slippery cascades of sound. "Own Way" actually incorporates vocals (somewhat of a rarity in dark hop), although they are buried so deeply in static and the beat that they become almost another sound completely, adding color at points before disappearing back into the background, only to resurface again. Perhaps most chilling is the final track, simply entitled "C". Drifting waves of darkness float out of the speakers while a robotic bass line trudges beneath. One is struck by visions of some empty space wreck floating through endless night in the far future. The emptiness is palpable as the bass line disappears, leaving only the haunting synth line, a glimpse of a distant star in all that blackness, a stunning end to a powerful piece of work.


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