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Subway - Subway II

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Artist: Subway

Album: Subway II

Label: Soul Jazz

Review date: Jul. 30, 2009

While it’s been generally appreciated, Lindstrøm & Prins Thomas’ latest album has also attracted flack for being a little too laid back, too much like a 1970s prog record. It’s Lindstrøm’s work behind a plain old drumkit that’s made their cosmic disco feel a lot closer to space rock than discotheque this time out. It’s still a dance record for long stretches, if you allow for the fact that contemporary ears can be unaccustomed to subdued percussion. Honest-to-goodness me-decade clubbers got off on some pretty sluggish grooves.

Anyways, L&PT isn’t the only team that’s taken strides towards krautrock this year. Their II isn’t even only disc called II working the territory. Michael Kirkman and Alan James, who record as Subway, have been more techno in the past, but there’s nary a thump on the nine tracks of Subway II. They cite a wide range of early electronic influences, but the most pleasurable references in these tracks aren’t obscure. They’re marked by the enveloping pulse of Krafwerk and the solar-flare oscillations of Jean-Michel Jarre. Beats tend to fade before the track does. When they enter, they tap along like old homebrew beatboxes, adding a layer of rippling tones, rather than force. The tones are insistent, and if nothing ever gets loud, it’s not easy to ignore either. The foreground stays busy, and Kirkman and James shy away from excessive reverb and atmospheric effects. It’s easy to imagine standing on the other side of the table where these guys have patched together their gear, and hearing exactly what ends up in this recording.

It should sound more retro than its does. “Monochrome” has the murky grind of dubsteppers like Vex’d, but otherwise the whole ofII could have come from 1975, right down to the tossed-off cover art. But there’s something permanently modern about circuit-generated sound. It’s likely that first musicians who played with these sorts of tools would have made music like this regardless of the decade the tools became available. When synths are captured without vocals, without mimicking string sections or guitars, without a distinct rhythm to peg it to a trend, they’re both warmer than we expect, and more alien. Machines doing their thing, unadorned: it’s hard not to be entranced.

By Ben Donnelly

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