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Ghislain Poirier - No Ground Under

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Artist: Ghislain Poirier

Album: No Ground Under

Label: Ninja Tune

Review date: Feb. 6, 2008

No Ground Under, the newest release by Canadian producer Ghislain Poirier, is a solid if unexceptional work. Despite the album’s title, Poirier has created a record that is less underground hip hop than dancehall reggae. His tempos are hasty, his bass programmed to nautical depths, and his vocal accompaniments (whether in English or French) rap with patois inflections. No Ground Under thus reveals a producer who defies easy geographical assumptions. Poirier’s embrace of Kingston riddims is an unexpected twist for a producer based in the northerly reaches of Quebec, a province in which dancehall’s tropical motif is, at best, wishful thinking.

Yet, perhaps fittingly, there too remains a distinct coldness in No Ground Under. In most dancehall, the backing music is entirely synthetic and recycled from one performer to the next, while the vocalists inject a sanguine element, rendering organic that which was preprogrammed. But Poirier has little interest in his guest rappers humanizing his work. His beats are the dominant force of No Ground Under; any rapper is but one gear turning in his greater orchestration. No Ground Under thus shivers from cold industrialization. In Poirier’s world, the vehicle is always championed over its user.

The engine here, as was true for Poirier’s previous Beats as Politics, is the bass. Poirier is a bass maximalist. Although he might use a small number of notes – a technique that is true of dub, hip hop, and dancehall – he does not let the bass assume one pattern in a song’s quilt, conjoining with and reacting to the drumbeat. The bass, rather, is the primary percussive instrument, propelling things further; in contrast, the drums, which Poirier limits to dry and snapping snares, are but accents. It is a style that would ring less than automotive if not for Poirier’s snub of the four-string variety for the 808. In Poirier’s assemblage, the part most central is that which has been most overly produced.

Unexpectedly, however, No Ground Under’s best offering is “Exils,” a song in which Poirier inverts his bass-focused approach. Featuring Abdelhak Rahal of Nettle on violin, Poirier allows Rahal’s strings to serve as the organizing principle, with Poirier arranging his drumbeats and other loops around it. Notably absent is any bass, with the exception of a perfunctory kick drum that maintains its place in Poirier’s drum routine. Resisting his normal tendencies, Poirier ends up with a song reminiscent of RZA’s stronger work, a dissonant piece that, seemingly in spite of itself, engages the audience to continue listening. It also suggests an element of improvisation lacking in much of No Ground Under’s heightened composition. One can imagine Poirier and Rahal on stage, performing together and in conscious relation to each other, free of No Ground Other’s otherwise mechanical control. “Exils” begs future, similar attempts from Poirier.

By Ben Yaster

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