It’s a shame that the AV
Club has already run their least essential albums of 2009 list, because as
enjoyable as it is, Athens would
have been a perfect fit. Whatever you think of the seminal techno act, this
compilation (made with The Misterons, aka two of the band’s live collaborators)
is probably not what you were expecting.
Beginning with Alice Coltrane’s ravishing, Pharoah
Sanders-assisted “Journey in Satchidananda,” Athens initially seems like an exploration of how jazz has influenced various kinds of
music, from Squarepusher to Soft Machine to the Detroit Experiment. But the
latter act’s “Space Odyssey,” coming after Roxy Music’s swaying
“2HB,” signals a turn in the mix, which follows electronic music
icons Moodyman and Osunlade to Underworld’s own “Oh,” previously
unreleased except for its inclusion in the A
Life Less Ordinary soundtrack (and much jazzier than the band normally
gets). From there there’s just a few lengthier dancefloor-inclined offerings
from Laurent Garnier and Miroslav Vitous before Athens ends with the
pleasingly oddball “Beebop Hurry,” a collaboration between
Underworld’s stream-of-consciousness frontman Karl Hyde and Brian Eno.
All twelve of these songs are good-to-great, a shockingly
high level of quality for a mix like this, and the sequencing is pitch perfect.
The gap from Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “You Know, You Know” to Garnier’s
“Gnaumankoudji (Broken-Afro Mix)” is fairly wide, but listening to Athens the
journey from one to the other feels completely naturally. The band set out to
collect songs that had influenced them, with a focus on the kind of
musicianship that they feel modern electronic music doesn’t always traffic in,
but despite these high level concerns Athens mostly works on a purely visceral level. It’s
great late night music, with few/unobtrusive vocals, a consistent mood even as
the sonic and compositional techniques used shift, and a cohesively drowsy,
laid back feel to the proceedings. But maybe I’m just jaded by the internet,
because it does feel odd to consider walking into a record store and paying
$13.99 (the current price on Amazon) for this.
For better or for worse, then, Athens doesn’t so much
resemble commercial product so much as it does a mix made by a friend who
spends way too much time listening to music. It’s got the kind of casual depth
and intuitive, sometimes surprising flow that only stems from a real love of the
art form. Most likely only a massive Underworld fan will feel compelled to
purchase a copy, which is a shame, given the quality of what’s on display here;
perhaps casual fans will hear the call, too.
Standout Tracks: “Journey
in Satchidananda” (Alice Coltrane); “Oh” (Underworld); “Gnaumankoudji
(Broken-Afro Mix)” (Laurent Garnier) IAN MATHERS