Electronica Compilation From British Label Warp

All this stuff is loosely referred to as IDM, or (prepare to cringe) "intelligent dance music."

It's a natural law: When important independent labels reach nice, round

release numbers, they tend to release compilations. Sub Pop, Teenbeat and

Merge all did it in their day, and now it's the hugely influential British

electronic label Warp's turn. We Are Reasonable People is Warp's

release WAP 100 (though they've technically released something on the order

of 150 records, but the number's the point, right?), and it's a compilation

with work by most of the label's best-known names. As you might expect, it's a

little on the uneven side, and it takes a while to sink in -- some of these

artists contribute throwaways or demos, and most of them do things that are

very much unlike what they normally do. All this stuff is loosely referred

to as IDM, or (prepare to cringe) "intelligent dance music," but the Warp

roster has mostly gotten to the point where it's using the techniques and

materials of dance music to make something meant purely for listening

intently.

The neatest thing about Reasonable is that it shows the Warp roster is

starting to move past drum & bass, a great idea that's now starting to

show some strain around the edges (there are only so many ways you can

rearrange the "Amen Brother" breakbeat). The most d&b-related thing here

is "Freeman Hardy & Willis Acid," the Squarepusher/Aphex Twin collaboration

that opens the disc. It's not as tonally inventive as Aphex's best work, or

as rhythmically bonkers as Squarepusher's best, but it does add a nice,

heavy boot to those over-familiar skittering sounds, and at its end it ups

the beats' speed until they blur into a skid, then a tone, then a little

bleep that sounds like the genre reaching escape-velocity and flying off

forever.

Beyond that, everybody's got different ideas of where instrumental

electronica can go, from retro-analog goofiness (Plone) to heavily layered

swirls of instrumentation (Red Snapper). Broadcast's "Hammer Without A

Master" ditches their usual Francophile pop in favor of live drums and a

juggernaut of a bass pulse; Jimi Tenor's "Wear My Bikini" is a swinging bit

of silliness with a single, meaningless line of lyrics; and Autechre keep

their usual alien-insect-hive percussion on "Stop Look Listen" but add a

little chiming melody to the mix. Autechre, in fact, seem like the leaders

of the next wave of IDM: Half the tracks here owe something to their

peculiarly jittery polyrhythms and minimal use of familiar notes. The

closing track, Mark Bell's "A Salute To Those People Who Say Fuck You,"

points to the style and the label's future: an economy of means in its

form -- a tiny melodic motif on a single instrument and a short, simple drum

pattern -- that opens up, Autechre-style, into a swarm of effects and

percussive details when you peer underneath it.