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Coldcut - Sound Mirrors

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Artist: Coldcut

Album: Sound Mirrors

Label: Ninja Tune

Review date: May. 5, 2006

Coldcut's dynamic duo, Jonathan More and Matt Black, return again. Surprisingly, this time they're not in quite as playful a mood as we've come to expect from them. Sound Mirrors carries their audio signature, of course, and has its moments of goofing, but for better or worse, a number of these songs have a more serious mood and a slower time signature than anticipated.

The album features more guest appearances than ever – almost every song uses a different vocalist. The result could be a fragmented album, and certainly there's that feeling. This could be viewed as a compilation album produced by Coldcut, but there is a kind of carefully composed reticence that helps the songs pull together as a group.

It's this reticence, unfortunately, that keeps the album from succeeding. It's as if More and Black set out to purposely compose a more "mature" album. By slowing things down they're able to accommodate R&B outings, spoken word stories and artsy offerings, but to be honest, it's not all that much fun.

"Man in a Garage" opens the album with what's likely considered the single. It's a pleasant, catchy Gorillaz-like tune, a hip-hop inspired pop song with vocals and not enough eerie fiddle by John Matthias. Nicely done. The bouncy rhythms and well-placed eastern-infused samples give "True Skool" a strong platform for Roots Manuva's vocals.

Others don't fare as well. "Just for the Kick," with spoken words by Annette Peacock, is too static. Its simple rhythm and near-monotone words don't move enough to maintain interest. Both "Walk a Mile in My Shoes" and "This Island Earth" follow an R&B route, resulting in undistinguished, surprisingly predictable tunes. Mpho Skeef's singing on the latter is soulful, but neither her voice nor the music has enough energy to buoy the song to the end.

Ultimately, only a few songs achieve the energy that we know Coldcut can generate. The aforementioned "True Skool" is one. "Boogieman," with vocals by Amiri Baraka, is based on a beat that feels a bit like an M.I.A. song, rubbery and topped with shimmering synths and samples. It may be the best song on the album, and most reminiscent of the restlessness that made earlier albums like Let Us Play so enjoyable. "Everything is Under Control" seems like a good idea at first, a reasonably nice rock/beat hybrid featuring both Jon Spencer and Mike Ladd. Unfortunately, the results lapse into territory all too close to the likes of Kid Rock.

The album closes with the deep, slow, dreaminess of "Colours the Soil" and the title track, an intricate instrumental piece. Like the rest of the album, they're well done: in and of themselves, they're nice enough, but don't stick with you. Coldcut's holding back, and their reticence is audible – there’s a spark missing that we can only hope makes its presence felt next time.

By Mason Jones

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