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There are albums, and there are remix albums – however very rarely do you come across albums as good as Pantha Du Prince's Black Noise. But it is equally rare to see a remix album featuring as strong a line-up as this one. The likes of Four Tet and Animal Collective are the heavy hitters here, however with excellent contributions from as varied a group of artists as Lawrence, Walls and Die Vogel, they are by no means the only highlights.
Looking at the track list, you would think that 11 remixes covering only five songs from Black Noise would grow tiresome. However the range of artists on show ensures that despite the fact that ‘Stick To My Side’ is remixed five times and that there are three versions of ‘Welt Am Draht’, not once do you get bored. That said, despite the excellence of some of the efforts are, at not one point do they approach the quality of the original work.
With ‘Stick to My Side’ being the strongest track off the original album, it is no surprise that it features so heavily on XI Versions. The aforementioned diversity of the sounds on the album makes it hard to determine which is strongest. Four Tet’s take has his fingerprints all over it, beginning with a euphoric electro synth progression reminiscent of Nathan Fake and his Border Community chums, which continues throughout the track surrounded by an undulating maelstrom of live instrument samples and the sundry weird and wonderful sounds for which Kieran Hebden is famed. Unlike the album opener, Moritz von Oswald’s rather static version of ‘Welt Am Draht’, which is as ambient and Ibiza chill out as XI Versions ever gets, Four Tet’s take on ‘Stick to My Side’ has movement and grows. The intro section builds and builds upon the synth melody, crescendoing with the dropping of Panda Bear’s vocals, which for the rest of the song act as an anchor to the surrounding structured chaos. Hebden manages to transform ‘Stick to My Side’ into a typically ‘dance not dance’ track, maintaining the beauty of the original while adding to it, ensuring that it never gets too saturated or distorted.
Efdemin’s version of the same song takes an entirely difference approach to that of Four Tet’s, whereby the vocals take a back seat to the strong 4/4 beat, emerging dreamily in the backdrop and leaving a haunting imprint. Indeed the track as a whole takes on a sinister and threatening nature right from the off, with two cowbell notes building into a dark and techy interpretation of the original. Lawrence’s version also takes a darker and harsher approach and, like Efdemin, turns the track into a much more techno-orientated affair while maintaining the ‘dance not dance’ approach of Four Tet. The repetitive and hard-edged beat continues throughout but is joined by a beautifully constructed ambience. It is the only version of ‘Stick To My Side’ which omits the vocals entirely and indeed is different enough from the original to almost be unrecognisable, only hinting at the song that it once was.
Animal Collective’s take on ‘Welt Am Draht’ is a highlight, and is potentially the only version which outdoes the original, transforming the track into something akin to medieval church music. Their distinctive harmonising vocals are evident, but they are used in an almost instrumental fashion – dripping with piety and heart-wrenching sorrow. Hieroglyphic Being’s offering on the album provides as polar an opposite to Animal Collective’s effort as is possible, somehow turning the excellent and beautiful ‘Satellite Sniper’ into an unrecognisable mess. The track is clanky, chaotic, nightmarish and ugly and is the album’s definite low point.
In general, though, the variety of work here is refreshing, as is the track placement, the album growing from quiet ambience into darker and dancier territory before crescendoing into a mournful and ethereal finish, with Animal Collective and Fata Morgana providing the perfect introduction to Walls’ excellent version of, you’ve guessed it, ‘Stick To My Side’. As a remix album, this is one of the better efforts to have been released recently, both in the quality of the artists featured and in the tracks that these artists have produced. Nevertheless, it suffers from the same problem that most endeavours of this sort face, insofar as it cannot escape from being compared to the original. While this potential obstacle is one that is not insurmountable in most cases, as albums are rarely as good as Black Noise, in this instance Pantha Du Prince’s original effort hangs above each track like a dark cloud as apart from maybe Animal Collective’s ‘Welt Am Draht’, nothing here outdoes the source material. At the same time however, as Black Noise was one of electronic music’s recent highlights, and if XI Versions is by no means as essential to anyone’s collection as Black Noise, but is a fine addition nonetheless.
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