IT WOULD BE fairly easy to read Basement Jaxx's new album Kish Kash (Astralwerks) as their post-house move. For starters, there's barely a 4/4 beat>"/>
IT WOULD BE fairly easy to read Basement Jaxx's new album Kish Kash (Astralwerks) as their post-house move. For starters, there's barely a 4/4 beat in sight. For another, Jaxx-man Felix Buxton has been publicly stating that he and partner Simon Ratcliffe are no longer checking for their late-'90s peersDaft Punk, the Chemical Brothers, and Armand Van Helden, who have been making cartoons, embarrassing themselves with the Flaming Lips, and M.I.A., respectively. It's a bit like Timbaland no longer busying himself with whatever the Neptunes, Swizz Beatz, Rodney Jerkins, or Kevin "Sheks'pere" Briggs are doingincredible hubris and a survivor's sense of entitlement all at once.
Basement Jaxx emerged at a time when house was beginning to wake up from a half-decade of tedium but was still somnambulant enough for ragga vocals and corrosive stabs to earn them the oft remarked upon "punk garage" tag. In the meantime, "garage" has reinvented itself several times over in the Jaxx's native London, from speed garage's junglized disco to 2-step's ravey R&B to 8-bar's grimy garage rap. And "house" has become so catholic a term as to be essentially meaningless, encompassing everything from Vitalic's snarling techno to Thomas Bangalter's AM gold cheese to Michael Mayer's microscopic soul on ice. In response, the Jaxx have seemingly taken their worship of their all-time hero (Mr. Prince Rogers Nelson of Minneapolis) to its become-your-own-genre limit. In other words, Basement Jaxx don't sound like anything but Basement Jaxx, even when they sound like 20 other things. They achieve thisparadoxicallyby refusing no sound available to them. Theirs is a peaceable kingdom, where rock and disco were never enemies, where Public Enemy never publicly dissed house, where George Clinton lies down with Giorgio Moroder, where Stacey Q invites Cabaret Voltaire onto her tour bus.
A less charitable reading might be that they simply string together the most effective moments from the last couple decades of popular musicrock, reggae, rhythm and blues, they mastermix those No. 1 tunes. But if so, so what? Who wouldn't want to live in a world where all the best stuff gets remembered and the crap forgotten? And what if Basement Jaxx's referencestheir "best stuff"aren't yours? The implied messageand challengeis that you, too, can do this. The joy of having five decades of pop history is that it's there for the plundering . . . go nuts! Make your own fucking record already.
But even if you do, good luck making it sparkle with as many facets, twist itself into such alien shapes, or rock and funk as hard as the Jaxx do on Kish Kash. Basement Jaxx records are like Sting-grade lovemaking sessions to the idea of hi-fi, multitrack recording. Every crevice of the mix is filled with wriggling, glistening stuff, dozens upon thousands, that lesser producers would pad out to whole tracks, whole albums, whole genres. Jaxx traxx pop, everything louder and brighter and more luscious than everything else. And their constructivist constructions turn record collecting into origami made out of old comic books.
What else has ever sounded like "Lucky Star," the first single featuring arguably the most exciting person in pop music right now, that man Dizzee Rascal? It's a grime-garage gypsy calypso hoedown that manages to quote Justin Timberlake's "Like I Love You" and outdo hip-hop's Bollywood-beatboxing fourth-worlders at the same time. "Right Here's the Spot" is the Jaxx's most pronounced Prince riff yet, Me'Shell NdegeOcello flipping the script on his femme alter ego Camille. (This record easily has the most gender confused vocals of the year: Women sound like men sound like women sound like new permutations yet to be named.) "Plug It In," featuring 'N Sync's JC Chasez, imagines boy-band pop (don't let anyone tell you this is R&B) as big beat. It rocks outbecause it can, like everything else herewith drums like great globs of mercury splashing into your eyes. "Cish Cash" sounds like Buxton and Ratcliffe stole Big Youth's Yamaha S.90 motorcycle and plugged it directly into the mixing desk, while Siouxsie Sioux serves litigation papers on all those grave-robbing electroclash girls.
EVEN THE TRACKS that maybe seem superfluous on the first couple of listens (obscured by the r-r-r-rush of the big Busby Berkeley set pieces) later reveal themselves as small jewels, or at least endearingly odd. "Tonight" starts out as slightly pro forma Spanish guitar R&B before reverberant stalactite thumps disrupt things nicely. "Living Room" may be the weirdest thing the Jaxx have ever done, if only because it's straight-up indie pop. "Supersonic" is bedlam, a writhing rose bush of lunatic voices, chicken-scratch guitar, and bluesy harmonica. Hell, even the interludes are worth going back for.
But there are three songs in particular I keep returning to. Opener "Good Luck" follows the same format as "Romeo" from 2001's Rooty: two surging choruses that dissolve into shiveringly tentative bridges before exploding again into Technicolor soul. (It also doubles as a storming drum and bass cover of Gloria Jones' original, pre-Soft Cell version of "Tainted Love.") "If I Ever Recover" has made me cry no less than three times now. Admittedly this might be because I'm a weepy, heartbroken chump, but I'd like to think it has more to do with the hushed, spacey production that invokes Larry "Mr. Fingers" Heard's postcoital house reveries.
And we end, as the Jaxx end, with "Feels Like Home," a nearly eight-minute radically uneventful comedown stuffed boat-in-bottle-like into the framework of the "gentle Basement Jaxx closing number." They've had something similar on every album, but those have generally been poppier; here, the synthesizer burbles drift and drop like snowflakes, NdegeOcello murmurs on the edge of consciousness, and even a breath feels like it could crumble everything to powder and blow it away. Who knew they could do ambient, too? A: Anyone who figured out that they can do anything. As usual, Basement Jaxx won't "save" dance music, rotate your tires, end the war in Iraq, or announce a paradigm shift in world culture. But they will almost certainly make your face scrunch up into that incredulous "Oh no, they just didn't" look many, many times. And damnthat, DJ, makes my year.