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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
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 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Meat Beat Manifesto
At the Center
Thirsty Ear Recordings

Rating: 7.5/10 ?

August 30, 2005
When I first heard of Meat Beat Manifesto in the mid 90s, I thought they were too far out of my listening range. Associations with labels like Wax Trax! and Mute, and with pigeonholed genres like industrial and techno, were just beyond my realm of comfortable listening at that juncture. Fast-forward ten years, an opened mind and a maturation process later, and the experimental jazz/electronic project of one Jack Dangers is suddenly compelling if not right on target.

Since the group's beginning, there has been plenty of change to show for newly drawn perceptions. Originally started as a duo of Jonny Stephens and Dangers, MBM is now only the latter with a cast of contributors, filled out with flautist Peter Gordon, Bad Plus drummer Dave King and Craig Taborn on keyboards and piano. The current supporting group of musicians is well versed in a style of jazz musicianship, but is skilled without getting mired in what some might view as the conventional nature of jazz's past. Dangers keeps his project in the pocket of somewhat eerie, uber-hip contemporary experimentalism. At the Center must certainly be an application of the band's character - the supporters are what give the music a unique identity, but it is Dangers who provides the creative and solid center for which these elements unfold about.

Spanning a tenure that has lasted nearly 20 years, MBM has always taken music in an interesting path but stayed close to the electronica base that Dangers brings to the collective. The one common tie throughout is a diverse sense of genre as well as a fearless approach to experimenting; this formula is firmly in place on At the Center. This time around, the drape of style is more in line with background-placed, dark movie soundtracks.

One of the greater indicators of creative direction for MBM is a progressive change of label support, starting with Wax Trax!, Mute, Elektra, a few smaller labels, and now Thirsty Ear. The current recording label is one known for pushing the limits of non-conventional, contemporary jazz, spotlighted by the efforts of artists like Charlie Hunter and Antipop Consortium.

Dangers nudges the experimental envelope a little further with At the Center. Aiding him, or perhaps benefiting his current production style, is the reputation of Thirsty Ear, and Meat Beat's latest does not disappoint from the standpoint of being solid while still eccentric. Over the course of 12 songs, there is a seamless mix occurring between live instrumentation of flute, bass clarinet, bass, keys (grand piano, Fender Rhodes, clavinet and Hammond B3), drums and pre-recorded drum samples, auxiliary atmospheric sound effects and production effects.

"Flute Thang" is a track perfect for an exciting murder thriller film, showing the run of things with this tenth full length. An eerie effect is built up from the start with a sampled voice speaking a non-English language and being filtered either through an echo effect or reverse playback. A break beat chimes in at mid-to-uptempo range, the rhythm just as effective in this style as it would be in an East Coast jimmy jam. A percussive bass line pushes a house aggressive feel through and both creepily-drawn flute and piano melody lines give the track a murky, slinky feeling.

A high point of At the Center is found in "Want Ads One," when Kenneth Rexroth reads the want ads - as recorded for KPFA in 1957 - over a looped upright bass line, live break beat and translucent, flittering keys parts.

Certainly what Meat Beat Manifesto does with this album is progressive, focused and musically special, but through all of these, it also turns into a mature record. Full enjoyment will not be dictated only by what the group does, but also by the listener who is ready to hear it.

Reviewed by Josh Zanger
Joshua Ian Zanger, a native of rural Chicago, rocks many a world with his writing, style, and generally sweet aroma.

See other reviews by Josh Zanger



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