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Zorn - Cruel Summer

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Artist: Zorn

Album: Cruel Summer

Label: k2o

Review date: May. 5, 2003

Vacations in Dub

Cruel Summer is Berlin-based producer Michael Zorn's first solo record, after sundry EPs, 7 inches, and collaborations (including his work as Artificial Duck Flavour). It's not quite a full-length, having just seven tracks and clocking in around 30 minutes. But it works well as an exhibition of Zorn's talents as an IDM Renaissance man. He mainly works in dub, but branches out quite competently into abstract electronic jazz and dance music. Each of his forays are pages in a portfolio, not necessarily coalescing as one might hope. Still it is promising material, and nice warm-weather listening.

The softly clashing cymbals and the serene synthesizer/trumpet on the introduction evoke or even recreate cool jazz, and convincingly so. Frigid technology is putty in Zorn's hands. Gather 'round and hear machines, with a little gentle guidance, do what Miles Davis did. Well, almost. Zorn never attempts to develop the ideas from the introduction within the language of jazz at all. That brief reference is instead a political statement, a bid for membership in the Coalition of The Organic (see Sutekh, Fennesz, and Matmos), whose explicit aim is to make music that contains a tangible and central human element. If that's the case, then the introduction is redundant, because none of this album resonates with mechanical excess. The majority of the songs, different as they are, express emotion directly and with purpose.

The second song, "The What-If Machine," is a very traditional dub-dance track, with all the standard parts, each right where they're supposed to be. It's a great dance piece and has no problems in that respect: it's fun and well-constructed, but is also almost indistinguishable from numerous songs just like it. This doesn't ruin the song's basic appeal, but until someone comes along to de-throne Antonelli Electr., anyone making dubby disco cannot expect superlative praise.

Skipping ahead, "Thanks, Human Female" could be the dub version of an unwritten Kraftwerk epic. And indeed, with the polyrhythmic Latin-esque percussion, it could be an Atom Heart/Senor Coconut remix to boot. "Seamonkey" follows with a decidedly more noirish and abstract edge. The rhythm skips around errantly, while dissonant piano notes and unearthly noises enter without a pattern. This is the darkest and most deconstructed of the dubs on Cruel Summer. The lack of cooperative rhythm between the many layers becomes really unsettling after a while, and in a good way.

The last two songs, "Visit My Towel" and "I Can See the Sun," are in the chill Rhythm & Sound vein, creating at last an impression of pensive days at the beach (which one expected from the outset given the title Cruel Summer, and the ambiguous, sandy cover art). By this point, ambition and complexity have been abandoned in favor of leisure time, which may be an appropriate metaphor for late-summer days, too hot to sustain any more drama.

By Ben Tausig

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