EVERY TIME a drum-and-bass artist releases a longplayer, the press huffs and puffs and works itself up, only to watch its predictions fall down with>"/>
EVERY TIME a drum-and-bass artist releases a longplayer, the press huffs and puffs and works itself up, only to watch its predictions fall down with frightening speed.
They cry, "This is it! [Insert artist name here] is the savior of drum-and-bass," and down, down, down go jungle's bright hopes. Down went crown prince Goldie (Saturnz Return—uh, can we return it?); down went Grooverider, whose debut, Mysteries of Funk, remained a mystery to most; and Wormhole, Ed Rush and Optical's awesome dancefloor banger, flew right over many folks' heads. With the exception of Roni Size, whose Breakbeat Era and Reprazent racked up more attention than all of jungle's contingents combined, these albums received a blitz of fascination, and then—poof!—disappeared to the back of the bins.
Coded Language (Island/Def Jam)
Though the December 16 release of Reprazent member Krust's Coded Language will be met with the same onslaught of pride and praise, I'm here to tell you that Coded Language isn't the One either. Yet the elements that will deter Krust's major label debut from landing the covers of Spin or Rolling Stone make it all the more momentous.
As NYC poet Saul Williams says in the record's hyperactive title track, "When a given norm is changed in the face of the unchanging, the remaining contradictions will parallel the truth." Backed by an unrelenting looped breakbeat that's weirdly devoid of bass, Williams gathers steam, ranting and raving till track's end. Your response will either be "Rock on!" or "Dude, chill out."
Think of Krust in the same way you would Sonic Youth; he's an acquired taste. More so than the other members of Reprazent, which includes Die and Suv, Krust takes the hard road. Early singles like "Warhead" and "Maintain," both released on V, initially met with an icy response. Only after a year did they become classic tunes; play one of them today alongside flavors of the month Bad Company or Usual Suspects and the response will be rabid.
Much of Coded Language works the same way: "Rearrange" and "Excuses" go down like a bitter pill, but the aftereffects are well worth it. This phenomenon can be attributed to vocalist Morgan, Krust's longtime muse, who doesn't sing in peppy, poppy snippets like Breakbeat Era's Leonie Laws or in the R&B tradition that Reprazent gal Onalee favors. No diva, if she were living in the '20s or '30s, Morgan would be singing along with Bessie Smith or Billie Holiday—morose ballads marked by volatile lyrics delivered with detached despair. Both "Rearrange" and "Excuses" burn slowly, gaining momentum with each movement; on "Excuses" Morgan actually sounds pissed. The result can be off-putting and may leave you feeling uncomfortable.
Most people don't want to work when they listen to music. That's why most people will flock en masse to the tragic Aphrodite "debut" (I'd ruminate here, but that's a viciously negative review for another time) instead of the more "difficult" Krust record. Folks find Aphrodite's paste-up samples easier to comprehend, and they may struggle with Krust's off-kilter time signatures and beat structures, or with Morgan's off-key delivery.
Coded Language is a rough record, but it has sedate moments. "Overture," a little ditty recorded with a 17-piece orchestra, is as sweet as "Soldiers" is nasty. Krust, like many drum-and-bass artists, feels the need to flex his artistic muscle, exploring and expanding beyond the confines of dancefloor jungle. Sometimes Krust's experiments work, and sometimes, as with the awkwardly rendered "Guilty," they don't.
More people will be swayed by formulaic jungle (Aphrodite, under aisle A, file as crap), but those who hold out for Coded Language will discover there's more to jungle than a one-hit wonder. While the media declare Coded Language to be music for the millennium (will somebody please tell these people that the millennium is three weeks away?), building it up so that it can fall down, a few of us will sitting at home, nodding our heads, deciphering Krust's latest opus. I can't wait.