Skittish, high-energy dance anthems have not met the nuanced dynamic ear of English electronic music producer Matthew Herbert. Truly one of the world's last great romantics, Herbert's ongoing project has been to continue the tradition of the experimental music proferred by Glass, Cage, and even Ellington in the context of today's oversampled music culture, as backed up by his own strict dogma for composing music. He uses all the gimmicks -- samples pulled from street-noise, dropping telephone books -- and they often work. His records are among the most innovative in electronic music, from funky charging house tracks sputtered with charming idiosyncrasies (pretty much everything on last summer's Around the House
) to pensive nuanced ballads, all fused from layers of "found sounds" from everyday environments.
The Matthew Herbert Big Band is an inspired gimmick if there ever was one. Herbert hired an orchestra for Goodbye Swingtime, a cut-and-paste protest record reflecting the ill feelings that the Bush-Blair tag team have inspired. Echoes of Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore find their way into the smoldering spare vocals of Herbert's long-time cohort, Dani Siciliano; they're sometimes clumsily obvious (the shrill chants of lyrics in "The Three W's" stir some painful winces) and other times rivetingly compelling and clear ("Simple Mind"). Gimmicks still abound (peep the 100-title suggested reading list on the liner notes). It will be interesting to see what other artists will have to say about the current direction of the world. It's great that Herbert got there so quickly.