Long, long term readers might recall that (prior to my immersion in all things grimey) I was hailing a young Detroit producer called Jimmy Edgar as the new Messiah of electronica. His first two EPs on Warp, plus the outstanding "My Mine's Eye" album (released on Merck in 2002) ushered in a new sound that built on the soulful electronics of Detroit's rich heritage whilst skillfully bending it into new shapes that were, frankly, irresistible. I still love those records, but its been over a year since the last one and I'd all but forgotten about young Mr. Edgar. Then I heard a few whispers that his debut long-player for Warp was finally due to drop, and my innate curiosity (and sense of loyalty to the boy who rocked my world so vigorously back then) led me to get in touch with my 'friend' in the Warp organisation to see if there were any promos floating around. A couple of days later the postman called with a finished vinyl edition. Now that's what I call service - cheers mate!!
My initial reactions to the album were a mixture of surprise, consternation, doubt and disappointment. There's a handful of tracks that come close to the Edgar magic I know and love - the gorgeous opening skitter-rhythms and creamy key-changes of "Pret-A-Porter" being of particular note, along with the distinctively supple, organic blipscape that is "Hold It Attach It Connect It". But for the remaining 75%, Jimmy's decided to make a retro album. A fucking decent retro album, admittedly. All those people in the 'pro-DMX Krew' camp will surely cream their jeans at the utterly authentic, classic '80s techno/electrofunk vibe that Jimmy's created. Just check the opening bassline on "Jefferson Interception" - a straight homage to Model 500's "Off To Battle", surely? And what's with all the sexy-but-monotone vocals a la Juan Atkins? Is that Jimmy doing the vocals? Or Juan Atkins himself?! (sorry, I didn't get a press release and the album sleeve has no credits, so I don't know the answer). 808 beats abound throughout the album, often treated with that distinctive sharp '80s gated reverb effect, and the trainspotter in me is wondering if Jimmy produced these tracks using the original machines or software. My ears just ain't sensitive enough to call it (probably wrecked anyway from too much sub bass exposure recently) but the fact is if you'd played me "My Beats" blindfold and told me it was an obscure (and exceptionally fine) Cybotron electro tune from 1983, I would have no reason to disbelieve you. Another interesting point: having spent practically all my time for the past year listening to music made by people pushing boxes around on Fruity Loops, hearing Jimmy's remarkable keyboard flourishes again is quite startling. Remember, this boy is so bloody talented he can hold his own as a musician anywhere. Hearing his keys makes me wanna dig out those old Herbie Hancock and Alexander Robotnick records again! I can't not like these tracks - that type of music's in my blood - so why all the consternation?
I guess its because I was expecting more of that next-level shit. After such a lengthily hiatus, my appetite for further Detroit futurism was pretty keen, but mostly I'm just hearing all the great bits from its past being artfully resurrected. Too much 'where I'm from' and not enough 'where I'm going'. Plus the thing about DMX records is that they always come out sounding 'Ed DMX-y', but most of these Edgar tunes are just so accurate you can't really tell them apart from the originals. What's the idea behind it all? To introduce a new audience to the 'old' grooves? Fair enough, but maybe that should've been kept for a separate project, rather than the big Warp debut album. Maybe I just worry too much. To be honest I'm over most of the disappointment now, and just enjoying the music for what it is. 'It Is What It Is', as the grand master once said.
Perhaps to reaffirm his experimental credentials, when you order the album from Warpmart, you get a bonus mix CD called "Rhythmic Denial" which, as the name suggests, is supposed to be a beatless version of the album. Not that you can hear much of the original album in there. Its an extreme exercise in minimalist sound shaping, a sort of 'drift study' utilising elongated shafts of metallic soundmatter, only leavened briefly by some funky sequencer and reversed beats, finishing with an outlandish series of slow-scraping sounds, like snare drums time-stretched into infinity. Its way out there, but still not entirely satisfying cos it goes too far the other way. Jimmy's best music never let's the innovation obscure the emotion.
So I guess I have to admit in the end that, yes, I can't help but feel a little disappointed with Jimmy Edgar's new album. But that's only cos of the incredibly high standard he'd already set himself. It fails only on his terms. By everyone else's its a top-of-the-range model fresh from the Motor City. I just hope Jimmy's finest hour lies ahead of him, rather than two years' past...