By Liz Tracy
By David Rolland
By Alex Rendon
By Terrence McCoy
By Natalya Jones
By County Grind
By Liz Tracy
By Chris Joseph
The new album being marketed disingenuously under the moniker of Icelandic trip-hop darlings GusGus is nota collaboration among the collective's nine members. The seven tracks of GusGus vs. T-World were actually laid down in the mid-'90s by DJ Herb Legowitz and programmer Biggi Veira, who were known as T-World before hooking up with GusGus. It's no wonder then that GusGus' trademark mix of sophisticated lyrical structure and dance-pop drive is missing here. Sure, down-tempo "chill" tracks cropped up amid the hyperkinetic cuts on the band's vaunted debut, 1997's Polydistortion, and on last year's follow-up, This Is Normal. But don't expect such a mix of styles on the new disc, which contains nothing like the pumping, earthy organ grind of Normal's"Ladyshave," the song that fuels the pedal-to-the-metal fantasy in a Mitsubishi car commercial.
Instead we get songs like the opener, "Anthem," which is underpinned by lugubrious, legato bass. Keening, calliopelike keyboard notes could brighten things up, but they mete out a sad, minor-key melody. A gritty, washed-out synth line takes over, ratcheting up and down scales before giving way to a fleet-fingered tabla drum pattern. The latter serves to pick up the pace, but we're never elevated to an obvious peak before the song fades out listlessly.
With its blobs of compressed bass and twangy, backward rhythm-guitar sample, "Northern Lights" brings to mind Daft Punk; this isn't necessarily bad, but the track never lives up to that glimmer of hope, ending without having taken us anywhere. The same can be said of "Earl Grey," with its snorting bass synths and squiggles of higher-pitched tones set against a rudimentary snare drum beat. The seven-minute tune's only musical evolution involves a series of progressively harsher and more abrupt snorts midsong.
Layers of percolating keys liven up "Purple," a track that hints at the GusGus formula with majestic, orchestral synths and breathy female vocals. "Esja" is named for the mountain that looms over Reykjavík, but the track's squashed bass melody line laid over a midtempo drum 'n' bass beat verges on irritating. More grating yet are "Sleepytime," a snore of a song that's little more than echoing piano chords placed over a tired snare-andhigh hat pattern, and "Rosenberg," with a similar rhythm scheme and equally ancient blip-bleep video game sounds substituting for melody.
GusGus vs. T-World boasts a few moments of inspiration, but only die-hard GusGus fans need this in their collections. Let's face it -- there's a reason Legowitz and Veira released this material after making it with GusGus.