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Alias - Collected Remixes

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Artist: Alias

Album: Collected Remixes

Label: Anticon

Review date: Jul. 18, 2007

Alias's so-called goth-hop odyssey The Other Side of the Looking Glass had a few tedious moments, but not nearly as many as he seems to think it did. If it mapped itself out according to a cathartic, self-consciously unselfconscious kind of hip hop that has since fallen out of favor, it remains a deft, thoughtful, enchantingly gloomy debut outing. Nonetheless, he's made himself (or rather, his self) scarcer and scarcer since then, trading his soul-searching syllable-packing for electronic instrumental compositions immediately after Looking Glass and, in the last few years, dealing exclusively remixes and collaborations.

All told, his instinct is right: he's a better producer than he was a rapper, but since when did that stop anyone (see Dr. Dre, see Count Bass D, see in particular RZA)? Even at its most maudlin, self-psychoanalysis still tends to be more interesting than self-abnegation. His post-Looking Glass releases, from the pointedly named Muted, to his dull team-up with para-Björk vocalist Tarsier, have felt frustratingly opaque, restrained and foothold-free. One wants to respect his artistic decisions, of course, but one also wants to hear more from him, to draw him out from the shadows and hear what he has to say. One wants to know what he can do that Dosh or Jel or Telephone Jim Jesus or the newly revivified Dj Mayonnaise can't, or won't.

These Collected Remixes, meant to pass the time until a new solo instrumental record, don't do much to lighten that overwrought context. Given the perpetual choice of the remix artist, delicate augmentation or total overhaul, Alias opts always for the former. He does it very well, which is why he does it so often, and here he manages to unite fairly disparate sources into one warmly alien anthology. But he's back to selling himself short, taking the role of stagehand and not even supporting actor. To each song he adds a shuffling, mechanistic breakbeat backbone, underlines a few cut-outs and crescendos, sprinkles in some foresty atmospherics; this manages to give John Vanderslice some edge (thankfully) and Italian slowcore magnates Giardini di Mirò some sprightliness, but rarely does it leave much of a fingerprint on the material at hand.

Such diffidence is of little use in a remixer, altogether less in a producer. This is a portfolio of work that should come from someone newer and less talented; even as a holdover until a new record it manages to elicit more exasperation than anticipation. That's a harsh reading of a consistently enjoyable collection, but it seems only fair for one in which Alias does so well by everyone involved except himself.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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The Other Side of the Looking Glass

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