Crate-Digging Archive: Meat Beat Manifesto – Actual Sounds + Voices

I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.

Originally published February 27, 2009, and presented here with minimal revision.

(Interscope, 1998)

My brother-in-law Bob’s apartment is a scary place for mortals. It is filled with ancient weaponry and tomes of incantations, spells, and histories. It sometimes smells like incense, other times like cigarettes. It’s kind of like a gypsy’s wagon, piled with stuff, but situated in an apartment above a bar. But no matter how much D&D gets played within its walls, despite the astronomical odds against it, it never smells like Cheetos and sweat. But I’d suggest entering at your own risk anyway.

It was among the piles of flea-market trinkets on Bob’s table that I found this CD, one of his many mood soundtracks to late-night adventures in mysterious realms. Who am I kidding – it plays in the background while a bunch of nerds suffering from arrested development role play until they’re drunk enough to stumble home. But really, the setting doesn’t matter – whether you’re killing elves and orcs around a high wooden table or on your way to a goth club, Meat Beat Manifesto’s Actual Sounds + Voices is perfect for all your dark moods. And some other moods, too I guess.

Although an electronic duo, MBM enlisted live musicians to enhance the layers upon layers of samples and synth stabs. The vibe is appropriately intense, but to merely call the record industrial would be selling it far too short. Although the beats are crisp and precise, there’s an organic quality that seeps through the processing. In fact, the 10+-minute “The Thumb” blends jazz musicianship and electronics seamlessly for a unique experience. The other standout tracks: “Prime Audio Soup” and “Acid Again” have amazing samples – the girl in the latter proclaiming “I love drugs” and “I’ll never do acid again” are hilarious. And while a lot of the record made me wonder if I was listening to The Crystal Method (not a bad thing at all actually), MBM seem to have an incredible knack for cramming tons of ideas into their songs.

And speaking of The Crystal Method, yes, this record does remind me of late nights in college watching AMP, the early-morning-hours showcase of electronic/techno/ambient artists making videos and music no self-respecting daytime MTV viewer would ever catch themselves watching. These were the halcyon (+on, ahem) days of Orbital, Fatboy Slim, Chemical Brothers, The Orb, etc., and at the time I was really starting to get into this style of music. Of course the experience was made all the more entertaining by certain mental enhancements, but there you go.

So while MBM released their early records on Wax Trax!, almost dooming them to the Chicago industrial genre in which they didn’t belong, Actual Sounds + Voices treads dance paths that lead to house and IDM. This is great stuff, and surprising that my reaction was much more than “I wish I could skip this”; rather it’s an exciting genre exercise.

RIYL: The Crystal Method, Front 242, Orbital, Fluke

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