“There’s nothing worse in life than being ordinary”, proclaims Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari) in American Beauty, perhaps 1999’s most lauded movie.
And few of the nineties’ musical genres were more ordinary than trip hop. What started with considerable promise – career-defining debuts from Bristol’s Portishead and Tricky – ultimately mutated into something that sounded so inoffensive it was offensive.
Its two contributing genres – hip-hop and electronica – were ultimately hosed clean of their grit and grime for a super-safe, hospitalised hybrid of the two. Breakbeats propped up coffee table jazz riffs and cooed vocals were drenched in dub echo. Here was music on life support –it swung groovily but said nothing. And it was immensely popular with white, middle-class twenty somethings, the perfect soundtrack to a thousand dinner parties.
As trip hop continued decline, in the UK at least you couldn’t move for the stuff. Every bar looking to position itself slightly left of centre would pile up discs by The Sneaker Pimps, Roni Size and Ruby next to the beat-up CD player behind the bar…
…but the king of the hill in the late 90s was a double CD from Austrian duo Kruder & Dorfmeister. The K&D Sessions is a collection of remixes completed for other artists and sequenced in a way that equally qualifies it as a DJ mix. Across its 2-hour run time the K&D Sessions showcased all that had gone wrong with trip hop. It had become so bland that Mums and Dads would momentarily cease their usual “they don’t write songs like they used to” diatribe in favour of cocking an ear and claiming that they were indeed hearing something “You know, funky”.
And yet, for audiophiles at least, there’s much to like here. This album sounds INCREDIBLE. Kruder & Dorfmeister’s super-slick production aesthetic is perfect for road-testing dynamics, separation, bass reach and (occasionally) vocal reproduction, the finest cuts for which are a somnambulistic rework of Depeche Mode’s “Useless” and a slinky take on Lamb’s “Trans Fatty Acid”.
Listening to this album 15 years after its initial release, it’s lost none of its safety. Impeccably produced and incredibly tasteful, this is what now forty-somethings use to show mates that they’ve not lost touch with their wilder years. Only there’s nothing crazy going on here. It’s the aural equivalent of a Marlboro’ Light smoked on a reproduction Eames chair in a warehouse-converted apartment.
Those wondering why I’ve exhumed something buried long ago only to kick it down the stairs one more time are directed to bleep.com where a fresh remaster has recently become available as a 24bit/44.1kHz download for US$19.99. Three bonus cuts take the track count from 21 to 24 and push the .zip’s file size to a whopping 2.23Gb. If the lower noise floor brought by the additional 8 bits is within your audible range, knock yourself out. Otherwise, save US$3 and grab the 16bit FLAC.
Want vinyl? Be prepared to stump up some serious cash. A used copy of the 4LP set fetches anything between $200 and $500 over at discogs.com. Also be prepared to run the gamut of dodging the unofficial re-pressing (read: bootleg) that popped up in 2010. You’re better off waiting for the official re-issue from Studio !K7 that’s slated for release in 2015.
Music that’s as tasteful as it is comfortable; the K&D Sessions is the aural equivalent of the spongy Tarmac that protects little Benjamin as he takes a tumble from the local park’s swingset.
Back to Angela Hayes in the closing act of American Beauty: “Yeah, well, at least I’m not ugly!”
Ricky Fitts: “Yes, you are. And you’re boring, and you’re totally ordinary. And you know it.”
Even when remastered and delivered in a quasi hi-res format, Kruder and Dorfmeister’s K&D Sessions remains elevator music for hipsters.
Further information: The K&D Sessions at bleep.com