Review: Her Space Holiday – “The Young Machines Remixed”

There’s one thing that’s clear from listening to The Young Machines Remixed, the appropriately titled double-take on Her Space Holiday’s 2003 Mush Records full-length The Young Machines. The artists and electronic noodlers who signed on the dotted line to rework Marc Bianchi’s sugary pop agreed, somewhere in the fine print, that they wouldn’t mess with the man’s voice.

Despite a range of deliveries and modes of attack — the unfolding ambient electronica of The Album Leaf; the spacey hip-hop of Dntel, Nobody, and Blockhead; the quirky mash-ups of Matmos; and the funky grooves of Stereolab and Broken Spindles — Bianchi’s vaguely disaffected voice is the only element left largely untouched. The backgrounds change. The colors spin ’round and ’round. But Bianchi’s sometimes-somber, sometimes-dreamy sing-speak remains at the core, a breathy signature carved again and again on the CD�s silver face.

Those who love the CD will say this is a conscious move, a way of weaving a delicate and familiar thread through the new disc�s 10 tracks and 44 minutes. Others may disagree.

The issue of voice (both literally and figuratively) aside for a moment, though, listeners will be excited to hear much of what The Young Machines Remixed has to offer, especially in how its dreamy pop can be re-imagined in any variety of lights. As is often the case with full-length remix albums dedicated to a single artist (or a single work), The Young Machines Remixed shines brightest when the secondary sources take full ownership of the material and make it, in one way or another, their own.

Take the understated Album Leaf title-track, an album opener that in four minutes highlights much of the best of what’s to come — the somber scales, the electronic pulses, the rhythmic drive of clicks and clacks, the slowly unfolding revelation buried beneath a veil of multi-tracked keyboard washes. Matmos and Stereolab offer lively takes on “Tech Romance” and “Girl Problem,” respectively, but their work is less riveting than takes by Arab Strap (“Something to Do With My Hands,” with its dance-floor choruses and bridges), Blockhead (the riveting acoustic guitar/drum grooves of “Meet The Pressure”), or Dntel (the airy “Japanese Gum”).

The remixes that work best also seem to pay attention to how to work Bianchi’s often-somber ruminations carefully into the mix. Arab Strap does this by laying his occasionally passive-aggressive lyrics (“Suck on my fingertips until you kill all my prints / So, your boyfriend has no clue of how much I’ve been touching you”) over more direct backbeats and keyboard/bass scales — illustrating the disconnect, one could argue, between the narrator and his reworked musical surroundings.

Dntel does it by laying out Bianchi and his sentiments in stark nakedness. Under a lengthy verse about a self-loathing girl giving parts of herself away through sex, Dntel concocts a minimal and almost spare palette of vinyl dust, quietly looping keys, and soft but sensual colors from horns.

The remixes that don’t deliver as well feel more like good technique than good songwriting. Super Furry Animals’ take on “Sleepy California” is kitsch-incarnate, a web of goofy interjections and seemingly pointless distortions (Bianchi’s voice is, notably, filtered through a grungy phone line and the voicebox of a robot here). Boom Bip’s remix of “The Luxury of Loneliness” wouldn’t be out of place on the Papa M outing Post Global Music, but, a couple of glassy verses at its core aside, it doesn’t register much beyond its running time.

Nobody ends the disc with more of a whimper than a bang with “From South Carolina,” a closer that, in a more perfect world, would be a fitting elegy. Instead, it swirls in circles and gets close — but not quite close enough — to hitting the listener with a bit of gravity and emotive reflection that some of the preceding remixes lack.

All in all, it’s an interesting (or, from time to time, interestingly flawed) disc and one that Her Space Holiday aficionados and devotees of electro-pop surely will devour, if only to hear Bianchi’s voice guide them to the next experiment. – Delusions of Adequacy, June 9, 2005

About the author

Justin Vellucci is a staff writer for PopMatters, Spectrum Culture, and MusicTAP, a contributor to Pittsburgh Current, and a former staffer for Popdose, Punk Planet and Delusions of Adequacy. His music writing has appeared in national magazines such as American Songwriter, alt-pubs like The Brooklyn Rail, Pittsburgh CityPaper and San Diego CityBeat, blogs Swordfish, Punksburgh and Linoleum, and the Gannett magazine Jetty. He lives in Pittsburgh.


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