Saturday, April 27, 2013

TIMBALAND, Tim's Bio: From the Motion Picture: Life From Da Bassment
Spin, autumn 1998

by Simon Reynolds

Maybe you've heard of the Jamaican tradition of "version" albums:
a dozen or so tracks all built on top of the same bass-and-drum
undercarriage. Different songs, different dubs, same riddim. Timbaland isn't quite so frugal with his creativity, but Tim's Bio does pretty much consist of eighteen variations on that beat. For the last eighteen
months, Timbaland's convulsive kinaesthetic -- double-time kicks, crisp snares, spasmodic flurries of hi-hat-- has dominated the R&B soundscape. So what's immediately striking about Bio is its failure to probe a fresh new direction.

But perhaps this complaint misses the point. Ever since it lost the "-'n roll," rock has had a problem with repetition: albums and shows are supposed to have dynamics, pacing, constrasts,demonstrations of versatility; at a certain point, more is always less. But in dance music, more is... more; repetition accumulates intensity, creates and sustains that crucial intangible known as "vibe". Black dance scenes (and their white mutations) work according to the principle Amiri Baraka dubbed "the changing same": minute variations on the same building blocks (jungle's "Amen" breakbeat, Miami
Bass's subwoofer-quaking 808 boom, dancehall 's "pepperseed" rhythm , and so forth). Mercenary copyists and opportunistic cloners play their part, too. For when a certain sound is doing it, the audience can't get enough of the good stuff. If you're in it, the slight tweaks and twists to the reigning
formula have enormous impact, whereas the uninvolved outsider hears only monolithic monotony.

That said, Timbaland really does need to come with a new cyberfunk matrix. His frequent complaints about "beat-biters" are rich when Tim's Bio verges so frequently on biting himself--self-plagiarism as auto-cannibalism. Likewise the lyrics: where last year's album with Magoo was thematically impoverished, this one's destitute, reaching its self-reflexive nadir with "Here
We Come"-- a song based around the Spiderman theme. What does catch the ear is all the stuff interwoven around the basic grid-groove: the scurrying infestation of percussive detail, the digitally-warped goblin vocals, the Afro-Dada grotesquerie of keyboard licks and sample squiggles, the onomatopoeic bass-talk.

The viral spread of ideas in dance culture works to erode the auteur theory, our ingrained impulse to fixate on originators. Timbaland's twitchy hypersyncopation was widely attributed to a drum and bass influence, something steadfastly denied by Tim and Missy. Now you can hear that imagined compliment
being repaid by the children of jungle, in the form of the two-step garage style that currently rules London. Dropping the four-to-the-floor house pulse and "versioning" Timbaland's falter-funk kick, producers like Ramsey & Fen, KMA, and Dreem Teem are basically making smoov R&B filtered through a post-Ecstasy sensorium. Call it lover's jungle, strictly for the ladies's
massive : midtempop bump'n' grind; sped-up and succulent cyborg-diva vocals; a playa-pleasing patina of deluxe production.

With the next phase of beat-science being researched-and-developed in England , the "bumpy pressure" is really on for Timbaland, if he doesn't want to go the way of ex-pioneers like Jam & Lewis. The dancefloor has no brand loyalty.

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