With a little digging, you might be pleasantly surprised to learn that one-half of Africa Hitech — Mark Pritchard — was also one-half of Global Communication. That group’s debut album from 1994, 76:14, is a tremendous slab of ambience that doesn’t skimp on musical content, and has made up a good portion of my non-required listening this past year. Africa Hitech’s sound has little to do with the ambient genre as it stands now, but 93 Million Miles, co-produced by Steve Spacek, is similar in the way it draws listeners in on the strength of its craftsmanship. The duo’s angle has everything to do with getting down rather than chilling out. Drawing on a wide range of dance-music practices, they come up with a sound and interest all their own.
The front and back of the album contain its best bits, with a slightly laggy middle. At 6:35, the title track is the longest piece on the album. The endless mutations of the main synth theme, punctuated by an incredible number of muffled claps, captures a sense of the immense distance separating the earth from the sun without feeling cosmic, exactly. “The velocity of light is an absolute,” a lady-HAL voice puts forth toward the end of the song; that’s closer to what’s being captured here, dance music as a vehicle of infallible speed. The next one, “Do U Wanna Fight,” revolves around a warlike stomp leavened by a dancehall shuffle, pendulous blobs of bass, and smeared, resonant vocoder — it has all the ingredients to be ridiculous, but a fragile balance obtains.
Without reading too much into press materials, later tracks like “Future Moves” and “Gang Slap” feel a bit like high-powered iPhone groove workouts, but not much more. (Pritchard and Spacek used apps like iSyn to sketch out some of 93 Million Miles‘ tracks.) Far from bad, they’re just not as fleshed out as the high points. My personal fave is “Light the Way,” which grows out of a Sun Ra sample, adding a lovely, trailing organ figure, the music bobbing in mystic ether while the drum programming keeps it grounded.
The whole “veteran electronic musicians collaborating” thing can go any number of ways, but with 93 Million Miles, you’re in deft hands. The album bears a number of genre traits from U.K. garage to U.K. bass, from techno to Shangaan electro and beyond, but doesn’t feel like anything other than itself. Perhaps that’s a too-neat way of tying things up, but 93 Million Miles presents itself as a whole, laggy parts and all, and that kind of vision is a special thing.