When Worlds Collude

The idea is so simple, with so much potential, one wonders why more producers aren't getting down on it: Unite a first-rate electronic musician, skilled at cobbling together beat-driven, modern soundscapes, with a traditional master instrumentalist, someone as capable of evoking mood and feeling in a variety of settings as creating distinctive solo passages therein. Then, hold a jam session, observe and listen. Easy, right? Unfortunately, there's also a siren-song trap to the collusion between ultra-trad and ultra-modern; one needs only to check out the high-profile, usually jazz-centric musical shipwrecks in the cutout bin to see how such best-laid plans turn to fusionary wank in a 64-track studio heartbeat.

Fortunately, UKers beatmaster Luke Vibert and pedal-steel guitarist BJ Cole escape those risks on Stop the Panic, a grand left-field-electronics collaboration whose only crime is some partial restraint in its fusion.

Minor quibbles first: At times Vibert, an Aphex Twin–school eclecticist who musically stretches in myriad pseudonymous electronic directions as Wagonchrist and Plug, lays down pedestrian beats not worthy of the sweet symphonettes he and Cole are patching together. At other times, Cole, England's best-known session steel player (he's appeared on albums by everyone from T. Rex to Orb to Garth Brooks), gets rather lost in the frenetic shuffle. Still, these do seem like initial kinks any new collaborators would need to work out.

Most of the time, the two create nearly indescribable, kitschy vignettes that take full advantage of Vibert's skills as an eccentric modern composer and Cole's natural evocation of traditional and homey sonic spaces. Vibert masterfully adapts to the pedal steel's high-lonesomeness, adding mandolin and violin to create groovy po-mo takes on abstract-beat swing ("Swing Lite," "Alright") and trip-hop-happy bluegrass ("Hipalong Hop"). Moreover, where players such as Bela Fleck's Flecktones invest such fusions with real light-on-humor earnestness, Vibert and Cole ride waves of delight and whimsy through their sonic experiments. (Just check out "Fly Hawaii," a happy-go-lucky bit of slack-key electronica that could easily pass for an Arthur Lyman/ Raymond Scott collaboration, were the two musicians fluent in Sampledelic styles.)

Stop the Panic does not herald some new beat innovation bound to take clubland by storm. But in its simple concept, it helps expand the language of so-called intelligent electronica, as it brings a looney-tune style into the halls of the high-minded — and escapes with smiles intact.