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Burnt Friedman & the Nu Dub Players

For much of the '90s, Germany's left-field techno scene projected a gray face to electronica's global audience, as po-faced Berlin outfits like Basic Channel and Pole mercifully contrasted the Clinton era's raging humanism with a shadowy brand of pulsing, minimalist dub-techno. Though the sound would eventually become influential, it often lacked organic warmth -- which was where producer Burnt Friedman came in. On his four well-crafted albums since 2000, Friedman and his Nu Dub Players fleshed out his minimalist associates' ghostly rhythms and successfully applied their gently mechanical aesthetic to Latin jazz, sensual love songs, and globalized krautrock.

Though ultimately laid-back, Friedman's noise-tinged arrangements teeter on the edge of the chaos implied by dub's echo chamber without bowing to the genre. Like most of '70s-era Jamaican dub producers that inspire him, the Berliner strengthens Can't Cool with singers, all of whom fill his spare soundscapes with subtle feeling rather than tired ad-libbing. Nigerian singer Don Abi features on four emotive tunes, and Friedman most skillfully supports his Richie Havens-like crooning with the warm, resolute minor-key melody of the driving "Fly Your Kite." On "Life Is Worth Dying For," Cologne-based ragga chanteur Patrice Bart-Williams' vocal grain evokes the heart-wrenching "sufferer" vibe of original rootsman Horace Andy, then starkly contrasts it with his dark, reptilian chanting on the noir-jazzy "Get Things Straight." Fittingly, Friedman caps the album's vocal selections by getting Detroit vocalist Lovetta Pippen to accompany his beatific (and all too short) treatment of the classic "Someday My Blues Will Cover the Earth" by her former alt-folk-blues band His Name Is Alive. Can't Cool closes with instrumentals that offer an elliptical path out of Friedman's compelling vision of what nu-dub -- and indeed all electronica -- can feel like.

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Ron Nachman

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