Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Dancing Box

Posted By on Wed, Sep 29, 2004 at 12:00 AM

No, James T. Cotton is not the Mississippi-born bluesman known for his “super-harp.” This James T. Cotton is SK-1 of Soundmurderer and SK-1 is Dabrye, is Tadd Mullinix, a multifaceted electronic musician who absorbed the most wicked sounds his young ears could register while growing up in the suburbs of Florida and Michigan. In his saturated musical psyche find acid house and first generation techno, menacing drum ’n’ bass and dancehall ragga, explosive trip- and hip-hop influences. None of it, to be sure, intended for easy listening.

On this, his first full-length release, Cotton takes acid — the vertiginous, groovin’, trance-inducing club music that ruled the darkest corners of the Detroit/Chicago underground in the early ’90s — and what results is pure electro-funk madness, punishing and uncompromising, and one of the most exhilarating listening experiences of the year.

Highlights abound. “That’s How I Like it (Illusions)” layers drowsy vocal samples atop half-circular synth lines and squiggly screeches; at first it resembles the work Richie Hawtin produced with Fuse (circa ’94), then it shifts into something noisier, crazier and even more deliriously manic in its repetition. “The Drain” begins as a bizarre marching song, then adds curls of broken electrobeats and handclaps until it becomes nearly impossible to dance to. The ambient chill of “A Long Way Down” — a pivotal point on the CD — provides some relief, then Cotton gets us off again with the nightmarish “Distant Trip” and “Blood Red,” which features frenetic synthetic-drum programming and an echoing vocal track that seems to cascade ominously from above.

The Dancing Box begins with “Press Your Body,” six-plus minutes of rolling bass, distorted rhythms and hypnotic female vocals saying, in three simple words, that the time to get physical is now. Sexy and sublime. The CD ends, fittingly, on the title track, which starts with ear-splitting machine noise, barrels forward on top of hard, crisp beats, then erupts in a series of violent electro-spasms. When it begins its fade into the ethosphere you feel a lightness that approaches radiance, like you just survived a magnificent electrical storm that passed across the heavens.

Walter Wasacz writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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