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SND - Tender Love

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Artist: SND

Album: Tender Love

Label: Mille Plateaux

Review date: Apr. 2, 2002

I never really had a problem with Mat Steel and Mark Fell's work under the name SND, but at the same time I never thought of it as particularly memorable. Not to say that their two previous efforts (nor the tracks they've dropped on numerous compilations) weren't wholeheartedly worthwhile affairs of mostly deconstructed minimal house beats and par for the course glitches and clicks. It always just seemed to me that after a myriad of other click + cut/IDM/glitch artists and records that I didn't really need to add yet another one to my space-monopolizing record collection. So the music was good, yes, but not in possession of any qualities that removed it from the masses. Tender Love, however (their third release for the Mille Plateaux imprint) distances itself from those first two full-lengths in slight ways that not only make the music more accessible, but more interesting, memorable, and listenable as well.

Admittedly, the one thing that made me seek out a copy of this record was a simple comparison. New York's Other Music managed to use "Rodney Jerkins", "Timbaland", and "the Neptunes" in a single sentence when describing the album, and in my mind an electronic album possessing even a tiny bit of the qualities of those hip hop and r&b producers had to be worth the time. While those comparisons may just be a tad bit overblown, the whole idea behind them still resonates with each subsequent listen. The bottom line is that SND have managed to craft a ridiculously spare and mellow record that is simultaneously…ridiculously funky. Well, about as funky as anything in the glitch vein can be, but the point still remains the same. This time out the duo crafts fifteen intricate pieces of music chock full of bursts of noise and minimal clicks. However, instead of sticking with stodgy interpretations of house, Steel and Fell set their marks for two-step dance rhythms and IDM recreations of hip hop beats.

The results are stunning, to say the least. Track one (none of the tracks are named) stutters along on an off-time beat while pushing a repetitive melody. The second track slowly works its way into the groove, adding layers of melody gradually to make a more hypnotic track. Track four is even better, with its pronounced beats starting the track while the melody dances gracefully in and out of the background up until an almost seamless segue into number five, which reintroduces the off kilter beat and adds clumsy melodic lines and other subtle touches to form an even more rhythmic pattern. SND still find time for sound explorations reminiscent of their other works, too. Tracks nine and ten (both taken from a live set done last summer for WNYU’s experimental electronic music show Didjilution) are two of the more abstract pieces on this record, with the former allowing for quasi melodic phrases to scamper back and forth unchecked while the familiar clicking beat works itself into the mix. The latter track of the live set is even more minimal then the other, allowing a quaint ambient background to lay the groundwork for more subtle rhythmic explorations. The final third of the album works down from the centerpieces established by the live tracks (which flow wonderfully even though they are taken somewhat out of context). Track twelve is perhaps the most instantly accessible track on the album, quickly establishing both a simple two-step beat and melody that the duo casually works around.

Assuredly, the new album by SND still has more to do with the Mille Plateaux camp than anything remotely approaching “Get Ur Freak On”, but there is strong evidence that Mat Steel and Mark Fell have spent considerable amount of time figuring out how to make their glitches move akin to folks like Timbaland. Which is not to say that mining the whole two-step/garage thing is revolutionary. Some of Manitoba's newer work plumes those beats, while Squarepusher memorably chose to lead off 2001's Go Plastic with his tongue-in-cheek ode "My Red Hot Car". However, when contrasted against those two artists, SND work in this realm free of irony, honestly looking for a way to transform dance rhythms into a minimal electronic setting. In all respects, Tender Love is an astonishing success.

By Michael Crumsho

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