Two years ago, Death In Vegas stepped onto the post-rave rock scene to charm
us with big beat grunge (the Woodstock-sampling "Dirt") and shambling funk
("Rocco"). But their debut album, Dead Elvis,
meandered more than it mesmerized, and the decision to then record a limp
cover of the English Beat's "Twist and Crawl" suggested that the act had run
out of inspiration before it got going.
Fortunately, the Death In Vegas of The Contino Sessions are an
entirely different band almost literally. Happening DJ and project
maestro Richard Fearless has dropped his previous partner Steve Hellier,
recruited engineer Tim Holmes and made an album of near-classic proportions
by applying dance music ethics to the instrumental guitar band formula. In
other words, working at downbeat tempos far removed from the thrills of the
modern dance floor, Fearless and Holmes take the format of repetitive beats
and evolving grooves the fin de siecle notion that atmosphere
and ascendancy form the foundation of great music, not melody and variety
and apply this process to an old-fashioned world of crunchy guitars,
thudding bass, straightforward drums and spoken word. The result is the
album the Velvet Underground might have made if they had formed now and not
30 years ago.
The obvious talking points are the collaborations. Dot Allison, formerly of
One Dove, la-las angelically on the opener "Dirge"; Primal
Scream's Bobby Gillespie rants on "The Soul Auctioneer"; and the Jesus and
Mary Chain's Jim Reid speaks up on the very Mary Chain-like "Broken Little
Sister." Yet while these tracks provide important variety, the only
essential guest appearance is Iggy Pop, who sounds like a murderously
seductive Sean Connery on the hauntingly crisp and funky "Aisha" (RealAudio excerpt).
Most of the album's instrumentals present a similar majesty without
resorting to semi-famous singers. "Flying" and "Lever Street" (RealAudio excerpt)
drums and Hammond organs, mix them with semi-shoddy guitar riffs and
apparently random electronic effects and turn them into ideal soundtracks
for a late-night chillout. The conclusion finds us reaching to the sky with
"Aladdin's Story" (RealAudio excerpt), religious intonation coming courtesy of the London
Community Gospel Choir, before the finale "Neptune City" teases the listener
on its way to a climax of Spiritualized proportions.
The Contino Sessions takes a little long to get going and is slightly
repetitive, and some collaborations are uncomfortably obvious. But with just
nine songs totaling 48 minutes, it is a perfectly sequenced, ideal-length
album that at its best sounds like nothing less than the future and the past
wrapped together in one cozy late-night synthesized drug.