Sofa Surfers
Encounters
Leaf / Klein / Virgin
2002
B-

choose your side of the line, revolution or reaction. And then realise that they are one and the same and the line is arbitrary. Is all great music reactionary? Does music inspire revolution (sex & drugs)? Something’s rotten in the state of Austria. Resurgent right-wing politics have given counter-cultural motivation to a generation sick of conservatism and exploitative economics. It’s easy enough for me to say this; living in England all I’ve got out of Austria’s troubled political climate is some fucking great music. These guys actually have to live there, in the shadow of potential darkness.


Encounters is a collaborative concept album, Sofa Surfers taking their paranoid dub-hop into brave new worlds with the help of an eclectic slew of vocalists including hip hoppers Sensational and Dalek, bruised On U Sound veteran Mark Stewart, reggae king Junior Delgado, buzzing dancehall haunter DJ Collage and folk-blues figure Jeb Loy Nichols, each adding a different spin and layer to the politically uneasy soundscapes. Drums are live and upfront, moving with an insistent imperative over layered sonic swells and growling, crawling dub bass. “What Kind Of World” captures the insinuated menace Death In Vegas touched upon in Dead Elvis but ties it to a degree of content that adds substance to the undoubted style, something Richard Fearless and Tim Holmes never managed. “21st Century Army” could be a Def Jux production, Oddatee’s unerring Vast Aire-meets-El-P rumble demanding “show me your way of life / and show me your identification card” with the resigned malevolence of Judge Dredd.


There must be something in the Vienna water engendering the populace towards creating exquisite electronic and dub music; like both Kruder & Dorfmeister and Fennesz, Sofa Surfers are highly accomplished sound-manipulators. They merge beats and sonics into a seamless whole, veering between electronica, hip/trip hop, dub and reggae and taking in an expansive palette of sounds, brooding strings and sarcastic applause laid-up with church bells and ominous clatter and drone. “Home Truths” approaches doom-laden industrial dub-rock, Mark Stewart muttering/shouting disgustedly about “hypocrisy” over a swarm of electronic bees, destructive scratching and clanging minor chords, whilst “Babylon Times” creates an arid soundscape of big-cat-bass growls over which DJ Collage can let loose his tribal chatter.


Encounters is an hour of heavy-going, bludgeoning and relentless. It starts in comparative lightness before questing further and deeper into a world of paranoia and political anger, finally letting up a touch with the shimmering Hammonds and backing vocals of “Can I Get A Witness” and the instrumental closer “Gamelan” which together act almost as a redemption of sorts. Ineffably cool and snarlingly righteous, it blows initially-impressive recent efforts by both Massive Attack and Primal Scream into the water simply by means of having something to say and a definite way to say it. Sofa Surfers’ third album is a near-masterpiece of post-millennial tension.


Reviewed by: Nick Southall
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01
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