Fhloston Paradigm The Phoenix

[Hyperdub; 2014]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: techno, meta-sci-fi, Escape from New York
Others: Vangelis, Underground Resistance, Drexciya, Inva Mulu

On The Phoenix, King Britt attempts to reconcile UR-era techno and sci-fi soundtracks, two musical spheres that have heavily engaged with Afrofuturism, within the album format, harnessing the ability of both genres to envision and fictionalize possible futures within a strongly African (-American) cultural context. It’s soundscaping in the most literal sense: outlining a cinematic narrative but otherwise focusing on generating atmosphere and mood.

As a storyteller, Britt falls rather flat; his attempts to exploit the transportative magic of science fiction by choosing a project name after The Fifth Element while also modelling the ambient-leaning interludes after it and other films (Vangelis and John Carpenter are strong influences) come across as little more than respectful tributes to the genre. High-concept Music for Films this is not, but nevertheless, the beat-less tracks on the album do work well as slices of analogue ambiance — the obscure shortwave radio vocals of “Perception” and the kosmische drift of “More” being two highlights. The production and beatmaking skills that Britt has honed over the years are obviously not going to waste.

The album reaches greater heights too, particularly when it expands on the ground covered on 2012’s Chasing Rainbows EP. The title track of that release features here, as do the extended analogue jams of “Race to the Moon,” “Letters of Past,” and “The Phoenix.” But the album takes several unfortunate missteps with the incorporation of vocal tracks that not only seem uncomfortably referential to his more soul-based work as King Britt — as though he’s unable to let go of old tendencies and aesthetics and fully delve into the fictive world of this side project — but that also remind the listener of the cheesier side of the sci-fi that inspired it. Britt has stated in interviews that the opera singer scene in The Fifth Element was “so powerful,” but tracks like “Tension Remains” and “It’s All About” come across as a bit too obvious and a bit too eager to emulate the painfully extravagant kitsch that made films like The Fifth Element unwatchable at points.

The Phoenix is, ultimately, a collection of immersive and impressively well-produced analogue techno tracks, bound up in a package with overt cultural references that tend to distract rather than add to the experience. But if you can look past the camp and artifice, there are some truly nice sounds buried here.

Links: Fhloston Paradigm - Hyperdub

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