You’ve probably had this happen a few times: you hear a song by an artist you’ve not heard much of (if anything); you buy the record the song is on; you get disappointed and throw the album back into the closet — and then months later you dig it out again and hear things you completely missed the first time. Chalk a lot of that up to misfired expectations: what you wanted was a whole record like that song, or something equally misguided. It took time for your ears to clear, to be able to hear the thing for what it is and nothing else.
As you can imagine by now, that’s more or less what happened with me and Mark Pistel’s self-titled solo album. Pistel I first encountered as one of the prime instigators behind Consolidated, a Bay Area rap outfit who leaned so far to the left they were in danger of falling right over. Consolidated were both dotty and spotty — they had politics that made Crass seem downright moderate — but when they were good they were outstanding, and I credit Pistel for being most of the reason why. He later became a producer in his own right and a frequent collaborator with Jack Dangers of Meat Beat Manifesto — and in fact that’s how I ended up discovering his solo disc, via the Dangers remix of one of its songs: “Skin Up, Rolled Material (Jack Dangers Remix)”.
“Skin Up” is such a good track — so intricately assembled and compulsively groovy and full of nifty musical things happening — that it’s almost a red herring. When heard on its own, it hints at amazing possibilities conjured up by the two of them working together: imagine a whole album this delirious! When heard in the context of the album that spawned it (and the song it was derived from), it’s almost a letdown: Why couldn’t Dangers and Pistel have collaborated on the whole record? Maybe their schedules didn’t allow it, but for weeks I had trouble hearing anything else on the record save for that one track, tucked away at the end of the disc, and wincing at what sounded like a failed opportunity.
Months went by, and the inevitable digging-out took place. And, sure enough, what I heard this time around was not a failed opportunity, but instead a good album with flashes of excellence here and there. The good parts are strong enough to carry you through the dead spots and underdeveloped ideas — which, sadly, there are more than a few of — but the album as a whole has the sort of sound I’m compulsively drawn to in the first place. Like Tackhead Tape Time or Suicide (or Martin Rev’s solo albums), it’s the sound of a whole lot of musical technology in the service of one man’s vision.
Given the kinds of music Pistel has worked on, and with, in the past, the influences drifting through each track are pretty plain: heavy beats, regular and broken (Meat Beat); rap (Consolidated); and the whole axis of post-reggae sounds from dub through ragga that seem to be turning up on most every electronic/dance disc these days. A lot of times the tracks sound like Pistel is just drifting on a given idea without really developing it, though: “You Could Jump 6x Higher on the Moon” and “Cheese” feel particularly aimless.
That doesn’t mean boring, though, and interestingly enough the longest track, “Serotonin Coffee Shop” is also one of the best — probably due to the compelling vocals and interestingly staggered waves of instrumentation that burble along the top. I’m still fondest of “Skin Up” in both its incarnations, though, and the closer, “We Look So Small”, wins instant points from me for using the same killer giant-drum-machine sound you heard throughout the Eighties courtesy of the Fairlight CMI library. (You’ve heard it, even if you don’t think you have. For a recent example, check out Rob Dougan’s “I’m Not Driving Anymore” in its instrumental mix, which sports the same THWOCK! all throughout.)
So in the end what we have here isn’t a bad record at all — in fact, a genuinely good one, one that’s actually improved nicely on repeat viewings and revealed a great deal to me over time. I still think a formal Pistel / Dangers collaboration that extended on what was hinted at in “…Rolled Material” would shine brightly enough to spontaneously combust.emusic.com=10588810