hen LFO’s Mark Bell and Jez Varley appeared on the front of the NME smashing guitars in the early 90s, it seemed a curiously flawed statement of intent - the pulverised instruments heralding rock music’s supposed death by appropriating its most enduring cliché.
Of course, the image in question was almost certainly the idea of a long-forgotten photo editor – and indeed the mainstream rock press was never wholly comfortable with dance music or dance culture on its own terms. The traditionalists hated its often wilful anonymity, its lack of recognisable stars or conventional song structures or any of the conventional critical footholds usually present in pop music. But most of all, they hated its utilitarian nature, the fact that this was music above all else for the dancefloor and not built for sweeping statements or theorising. Rock critics often like to elevate music to a higher plane, taking it beyond the realm of everyday experience and into quasi-mythical territory. The casual listeners - the ones tuned into the radio, in the car, or on the dancefloor, the vast majority of music consumers - are of secondary importance.
Thankfully, dance music doesn’t work like that. The audience, and that moment of initial impact, is everything. And let’s face it – just imagine being on a dancefloor with hundreds of people and hearing that robotic voice intoning “This. Is going. To make you freak,” while knowing exactly what’s coming. What’s coming is, of course, LFO’s comeback single, “Freak,” a prime slice of old-school techno that morphs into gloriously messy acid-noise breakdown. It does exactly what it says on the tin.
There are a number of equally majestic moments on Sheath. The preposterously but aptly-named “Mummy I’ve Had An Accident” revolves around an incessant ascending acid line which, like all the best techno, burrows deep into your brain and refuses to budge for hours. Elsewhere, the enjoyably woozy “Mokeylips” tickles the ear in the manner of prime early Plaid, while the squelching, intricately recorded percussion on the gorgeous “Moistly” offers something rare – a beat you feel you can swim in.
But best of all is the opener, “Blown” – the missing link between the Aphex Twin’s early ambient works and (believe it or not) some of Mogwai’s mellower moments. Bell lets four chords drift on for six minutes like aural dry ice, dreamy and fuzzy and ephemeral while a lovely bleeping melody twinkles away in the heavens. It’s as beautiful a piece of music as you’ll hear all year, lapsing into a Boards of Canada-esque music box coda before the brutal “Mumm-man” obliterates the reverie.
If the album has a fault, its that LFO can occasionally be accused of complacency, and a handful of tracks here stray into bog-standard Warp generictronica, but it’s a minor gripe considering the joys on offer elsewhere. So while Sheath may not be the most innovative record you’ll hear this autumn, if rock acts are allowed to comfortably celebrate their past, why shouldn’t dance music?
Reviewed by: Matt D’Cruz
Reviewed on: 2003-10-02
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