Indicia Identifying Marks

[Kanpai; 2005]

Styles: trip hop, down tempo, industrial
Others: Portishead, Massive Attack, Broadway Project

Marrying harsh mechanical beats and production to sultry but detached female vocals, Indicia make a convincing attempt at breathing life into trip hop by amplifying the genre's already apparent sinister undertones. To me, trip hop was always about a chilly vibe in the music supporting the distressed (if not depressing) world view put forth in the lyrics. But what distinguished Portishead or Massive Attack as the masters of the formerly sound-of-the-moment genre was their ability to make these elements feel human. The sound of dirty, crackling vinyl samples and burbling organs gave the music an organic quality that helps lull the listener into a comfort zone with the more misanthropic elements.

This humanizing strategy is not employed by Indicia. In fact, the production has a much colder, harsher edge -- more akin to Nine Inch Nails and other industrial acts than it is to Tricky. In the sense that this is bringing something new to the genre, I applaud the effort, but ultimately I find the results alienating and somewhat distasteful. In a more strictly industrial setting, such music usually gains its connection with the listener through extreme anger as projected through the vocalist's ranting tirades -- particularly appealing to those angsty teens out there. On the other hand, Betsy Ullery's alternation of detached spoken word passages and steamy crooning doesn't have the rough edges to match the character of the music. The result is less compelling than either the vocals or the programming might be if they were taken separately.

This is not meant to say that there aren't some high quality moments contained throughout Identifying Marks. The two more instrumental tracks, "Rescue Me (Interlude)" and "Incomplete (Interlude)," do have their charms as surreally cinematic pieces reminiscent of Amon Tobin or The Herbaliser. Also, Ullery's voice is a beautiful instrument with great potential for a number of musical contexts. The most likely audience for Indicia are those industrial fans looking for something a bit more subdued, or, less likely, the down tempo aficionados looking for something a bit rougher-edged.

1. It's Coming Around
2. Corners
3. Powder
4. Elapse
5. Rescue Me (Interlude)
6. Rescue Me
7. Casualty
8. Runaway
9. Incomplete (Interlude)
10. Incomplete
11. FNB

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