Can you say "really long lead time"? We've had Kaleidoscope sitting around our offices since mid-December. It comes out April 4th. It's been sitting on my desk since late January. I feel no particular compulsion to hold a disc 'til its release date, but in this case that's how it worked out.
"There's a whole group of people that are working in this direction in music," says a tongue-in-cheek sample at the beginning of the disc. It's true.
If you've enjoyed Ninja Tune acts like Clifford Gilberto, Amon Tobin and Cinematic Orchestra, Kaleidoscope is likely to be right up your alley. While not as jazzy as Tobin and Gilberto's efforts, it's filled with the same sweeping, cinematic sounds, mixing swanky horn riffs, swelling soundtrack swings, lounge-core aesthetics and borrowed vocals with selected trip-hop and drum'n'bass trappings. This is music designed to fill large spaces: it drawls languidly from speakers, rebounds gently from walls and worms its way into every crevice. "Full Bleed" offers an evocative opening, mixing a late-night jazz funk riff with stolen dialogue, sampled monk-chanting and a heavy-bass foundation that sounds like the song of a massive animal. These elements drift in and out of focus, sliding from foreground to background, out of the picture and back into it, rather like the aural equivalent of one of Brian DePalma's famed unbroken tracking shots.
"Break" begins with the titular impact, beginning a game of aural billiards. A distorted rap vocal bounces around the table, knocking against splintered fragments of beat. "The Riff" jumbles together a series of jazz elements -- piano melodies, horn hits, bass riffs -- none of which seem to align properly, giving the tune a jittery, unbalanced feel. Sampled "hipster" voices add to the atmosphere, as do a few familiar samples -- I noticed the passing/skidding car noise from the Orb's "Toxygene" and, I'm pretty certain, some of the dialogue from Smashing Time. "Riff" provides a stirring lead-in to Kaleidescope's best-publicized track, "The Aging Young Rebel". Here, DJ Food (Strictly Kevin and PC) provide a lounge-music background, replete with slow-stepping bass and guitar progressions, for narration by immortal word-jazz impressario Ken Nordine. It's a bewitching story of counterpoints which, as usual, has more to do with word interaction and contrasted imagery than it does with creating a coherent narrative.
After "The Aging Young Rebel", Kaleidoscope heads for mellower, trippier climes. DJ Food trot out drum'n'bass rhythms to complement the paranoia-inducing piano, flute and string melody on "Nocturne (Sleep Dyad 1)", and "Nevermore (Sleep Dyad 2)" eases its way into hallucinogenic lounge music, only to abruptly break its trance with fevered beats. By the time "Minitoka" rolls around, you'll be thoroughly willing to buy into its friendly fairyland imagery.
While it's not groundbreaking, Kaleidoscope is an effective mood manipulator. The DJ Food guys have refined their style, working skillfully with their palette of urban decay, menace, darkness and paranoia while retaining a grinning self-awareness throughout. As armchair travels go, it's an enjoyable trip -- though one perhaps best experienced without paranoia-inducing herbal substances.