One of the most improbable developments in underground dance music this year has been the continuing relevance of the broken-beat genre. Hastily named to commemorate the lethal dance beats European producers have made by plundering, chopping, and flipping Afro-Cuban polyrhythms, its standard bearers have issued several great singles (Jazzanova's "renumber" of Ian Pooley's "What's Your Number"), only to stumble with gloopy, bland "nu-jazz" full-lengths that are bloated with Rhodes piano bleats and Stevie Wonder impressions (Jazzanova's In Between).
That trend began to change this year, thanks to solid recordings such as Will "Quantic" Holland's Mishaps Happening. His third album in four years, Mishaps Happening is the first to be released in the States via a distribution deal between his Tru Thoughts imprint and the L.A. label Ubiquity. Far from being weighted down by pretentious soul tracks and bad songwriting, Quantic's music is fleet, edgy, and exciting, from the album's opening cut, the skittering, Brazilian-flavored title track, to the fat and funky "So Long," a collaboration with the airy songstress Alice Russell.
For better or worse, Mishaps Happening is a conglomerate of songs; its only consistent theme is the insistent dance floor beats that Quantic laces through it. On "Use What You Got," he crushes up a raging Afrobeat pace as Sonny Akpan chants the chorus, while "Trees and Seas " is a downtempo number enlivened by a sharp drum track. This range of styles keeps things interesting, but also makes for a bumpy ride. Some of the songs don't measure up to the standard set by the title track. The blue jazz of "Angels and Albatrosses" is so smooth that it tends to meander, while "Furthest Moment" is pure dance floor filler, good for DJs but bad for home listeners. It reinforces the notion that it's difficult to make a great dance album. Unlike vocal-led full-lengths, instrumental dance records often don't have enough thematic substance to maintain interest unless they're fully loaded with hot tracks.
Mishaps Happening's cumulative power rests in Quantic's production style. His music is hard-hitting drums and vibrant bass lines; it sounds raw, unadorned, and full of positive, pure energy. It's clear he's got the funk; with luck, he'll learn to turn his talents into more than the sum of his songs.
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