Album: URBAN TRIBE – Acceptable Side Effects (Rephlex CAT184 2007)

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Much of the techno that came out of Detroit in the early to mid nineties has dated pretty badly. A lot of it seems quite cheap and tinny sounding compared to more recent electronic music. Aside from Carl Craig, Sherard Ingram’s Urban Tribe (which included Craig as an associate member in its early days) has one of the few catalogues from the era that still sounds relatively fresh. The 1998 Mo Wax album The Collapse Of Modern Culture was one of the best records the label released outside of DJ Shadow and DJ Krush.

Eight years passed with just a single Planet E twelve to break the silence before Ingram signed to Rephlex last year. His debut album for the label, Authorised Clinical Trials, saw the Urban Tribe sound undergo a radical overhaul. The expansive techno sound was replaced by a much more muted and minimal electro style in the same vein as Ingram’s other project Drexciya (with whom he records as DJ Stingray). Appearing less than a year on, Acceptable Side Effects is very much a companion piece to its predecessor.

The album seems strangely undercooked and unengaging. It starts excitingly enough with the high tempo “110101”, but even that sounds blunted and muffled. The portentious robot vocals feel tired and clichéd too. Elsewhere the beats range from slow to a brisk tempo, but often suffer from an anaemic production. Minimalism is fine, but a lot of these tracks simply don’t have enough in them to sustain more than cursory interest. There are exceptions. The slow shuffle of “Night Scope” has a simple, hypnotic melody line, “Outflank” evokes the spirit of early Warp bleep techno and the closing “Tangent” is a genuinely exciting two-step drum and bass tune given a robotic Detroit makeover. As a whole, though, Acceptable Side Effects sounds like a dozen sketches for tunes that could use a little more development. It’s not a bad album, just a tad mundane.

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