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Red Snapper - Red Snapper

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Artist: Red Snapper

Album: Red Snapper

Label: Lo Recordings

Review date: Apr. 16, 2003

Sinister But Static

For ten years, Red Snapper have been operating on the premise of integrating live acoustic instruments with electronic backdrops, for better and seldom for worse. A sinister element has more or less remained steady throughout, from their debut EP collection Reeled and Skinned through their last proper release Our Aim Is To Satisfy, but each album affixed its own unique variable. On 1998's Making Bones it was jazz, and it was wonderfully bold; with Our Aim it was trip-hop, and it was energetic yet hypnotic. Red Snapper, an assortment of tracks that were incomplete when the group split but were recently finished anyway, avoids either of the above, nor is it that surprising; rather, it's a low-key set of atmospheric grooves, some jazz and some techno — and it's nowhere near as exciting as its predecessors.

The suspense is still there, as thick as it ever was, laid on well enough to replace the Dust Brothers' edgy Fight Club soundtrack. Leave it to the core of the group, bassist Ali Friend, drummer Richard Thair, and guitarist David Ayers, to make it so; while other instruments wrap themselves periodically around the guitar and drums to suggest a melody, the omnipresent double bass has the final say. Much is clear after the first two tracks: "Regrettable" pulsates with piano keys or muted trumpets, while just one unchanging bass note makes the whole song seem dangerous; then "Mountains and Valleys’" Zen-like guitar and flute dialogue is disrupted by Friend’s bass, bringing the dark clouds. This is the apex of the album, however, and, dark or not, Red Snapper soon begins to retrace its own footsteps.

Later songs have similar setups — slowly layered parts, relentless dark undertones, sultry jazz licks — but, whether due to the precedent set by the album's beginning or to their intrinsic repetition, they fail to be as potent. The group seems to have unlocked the suspense too early in the game, as the remaining forty-five minutes take on an unsurprising, sedate nature. The songs still build themselves up intricately, but outstay their welcome once full-grown. Without many tricks up their sleeves, tracks like "Dnipro" and the eight-minute "Hot Flush (Sabres of Paradise Remix)" get stale early on, and even others with their share of twists remain static. The breakbeats are not explosive, the basslines are simple and repetitive, and the urgency of the top layers is absent: the trio lay the groundwork as elegantly as ever, but nothing terribly interesting happens to it.

Whereas the frantic and bold feeling of the music made Our Aim and Making Bones spectacular listens, Red Snapper seem determined to take it very, very easy here, and the music suffers. It's understandable that this collection should lack the incentive that characterized the group's earlier work; perhaps if they'd still had a future together to look forward to, Red Snapper might have turned out more exciting. But as it is now, it sounds like unfinished business, completed and released just for the sake of tying up loose ends.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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