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Basement Jaxx: Kish Kash

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Basement Jaxx

Kish Kash

[Astralwerks; 2003]

Over the past few months, some of the more conservative members of British music press have put their Coral raves on hold long enough to document the demise of the Superclubs (e.g. Ministry of Sound, Cream, Gatecrasher) and the continued splintering of music listeners. Trotting out a series of "Dance Music Is Dead" pieces that amount to little more than lazy thinking and gleeful opportunism, many of these critics aim to deflate a music they never liked in the first place.

Here in America, we're slowly showing signs of shaking our deep-rooted discophobia. In recent years, indieland has finally embraced the post-punk that makes you wind up your waist instead of just standing around full of righteous political anger. In 2003, we're finally loose-limbed and non-puritanical enough to be able to bestow the Second Annual Gang of Four Award-- presented to the most overused musical touchstone of the year-- upon Prince. At this rate, a revival fueled by re-writes of "Can You Feel It?", "No Way Back" and "Voodoo Ray" should hit American shores sometimes around 2043.

One problem with the typical dance rhetoric has been that it ignores most of the past thirty years of disco and its offshoots. At disco's peak, its detractors and demolition crews resented what was seen as a culture of exclusivity and hedonism. The haters put Bianca Jagger and the Studio 54's white horse in the crosshairs, ignored the communal and utopian nature of the dancefloor, and-- with at least a tinge of homophobia-- associated the sound with being fake, evil, anti-human.

Since then, dance music's entry in the rock-crit history books has been limited to the late 70s when the music was inescapable: a few years when an industry-fed orgy of overspending and over-saturation and the shaky work of disco tourists clouded its quality. But talking about American disco and ignoring Philly Soul, The Loft, Salsoul, disco (not disco) records and the dance end of post-punk, Arthur Russell, garage, electro and house is sort of like approaching the thirty-year history of American punk and forgetting The Stooges, New York Dolls, CBGB's, The Germs, Black Flag, and their L.A. cohorts, hardcore, emocore, and every underground band from K Street to Gilman Street to focus only on Green Day, Blink-182 and Good Charlotte.

And yet, the winner takes it all, so with the blessing of the rock press, that's exactly what's happened.

In recent years, the non-rock world is again slowly incorporating pop/rock structures into their sound with great success. It was European dance DJs who made LCD Soundsystem, The Rapture, Radio 4, and the Electric Six names to drop. Bootleg culture did as much for The Strokes as it did for Xtina. Junior Senior's D-D-Don't Don't Stop the Beat is one of the best applications of the garage-rock revival. Outkast's Andre 3000 and the Luomo-versed Junior Boys have made two of 2003's best indie pop singles, and Bubba Sparxxx's "Back in the Mud" and Girls Aloud's "No Good Advice" rock as engagingly and forcefully as most guitar bands. And now comes Basement Jaxx, who on their new record Kish Kash produce both some of the most propulsive, ferocious music of the year as well as some of the most poignant, and they do it in part with the sounds of the old-fangled geetar.

Kish Kash may not have highs as glorious as "Red alert" or "Romeo", but it's the most consistently entrancing record of Basement Jaxx's career, and one on which they largely turn their ear away from the dynamics and repetition of dance music. For instance, of the tracks here, only "Supersonic" wouldn't have stood out on their debut, Remedy-- and even that track doesn't feature house's traditional 4/4 beat. (Plus, it has a guitar solo!) A little darker and less playful than their previous efforts, the first half of the record takes the energy, velocity and thrust of "Where's Yo Head At?" and adds a head-swimming number of sonic details, resulting in a series of dense dance-pop gems; the second half is more placid, built on acoustic guitars and broken hearts more than electronic dreams and broken beats.

A pool of guest vocalists further enrich this material, adding an additional layer of variety to the album's already diverse palette. The Bellrays' Lisa Kekaula opens the record in strong voice, riding a regal rave-up of guitar, strings and handclaps on "Good Luck", a defiant, acerbic nu-"I Will Survive". Siouxsie Sioux's pummeling anti-greed collaboration, "Cish Cash", knocks Fugazi back into Brent D.'s record box and sends most of electroclash back to Williamsburg or The Hague with its tail between it legs. First single "Lucky Star" retains the peerless Dizzee Rascal's eastern vibe while he thrillingly explains why he needs music to make him grow "dy-na-mi-tee." And "Plug It In" bathes J.C. Chasez in a tide of sighs, brutish synths and whipsmart drum breaks. The most surprisingly successful collaborations, however, are from Me'shell NdegéOcello, whose "Right Here's the Spot" is a more striking P-Funk/Prince (dig the "Delirious" reference) amalgamation than most of Speakerboxxx and more deliciously carnal than The Love Below. NdegéOcello also gives Kish Kash its tender close on the slow-burning "Feels Like Home", a fitting finale for its more stirring, introspective second half.

You'd have gotten some pretty good odds at the beginning of the year that a Prince-influenced duo would wind up making one of the most sonically thrilling, genre-hopping records of the year, but it wasn't either of the more likely pairs that managed to do it. Pharrell and Chad treaded water, offering an album that consolidated their strengths but rarely approached their best work. Then Big Boi did his part, but Andre 3000 dropped the ball, creating a modern Lovesexy when a Dirty Mind would have been more rewarding. On Kish Kash, Basement Jaxx recover Dre's fumble and move near the front of the 00s' crop of rock-dance crossovers, a growing group of Paradise Garage rockers who, with luck, are a sign of the times.

-Scott Plagenhoef, October 22nd, 2003 • PitchforkMedia

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do your thing was kool-ish, i havent heard "kish kash" yet tho.

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