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Roni Size: "In The Mode"
(*)

Covert art

Aggressive beats with aggressive vocals

When I bought this album, I was dead certain I'd hear more of the exact same mixture that was New Forms. To an extent I was correct - the clear character of the beat and sample usage of Roni Size cannot be mistaken for anyone else's - but I also discovered new nuances, for both better and for worse. First of all, this album is filled with references to New Forms - I'll point these out as I go on. Yet they're just references, not imitation of the style that was present on New Forms. This album does have fresh ideas to offer.

In The Mode is strange mixture. Besides dirty chopped up beats and rap vocals (that dominated New Forms as well) this album contains a few more solemn moments in Play The Game and Lucky Pressure. The former - although short and a little incomplete - is a balladish presentation with a piano melody and a slow beat. The latter starts out with a haunting, powerful string melody and then builds up to a drum'n'bass roller yet still retaining a strong sense of unified melody. Both sport vocals by Onallee, who also did a lot of vocals for New Forms. Her distinct and slightly nasal voice has become an integral part of the Roni Size sound, which doesn't bother me. It's the male vocals that do.

Roni Size teamed up with a few rappers on this one, which ruined half of the album for me (although undoubtedly it will save half of the album for someone else). Sure, there's the beatbox act (another reference to New Forms) which is all fun and actually much better than the one on New Forms, but for example Centre of The Storm, while sporting a delicious bassline, dense drums and a nice progression, is bordering on unlistenable thanks to Zack De La Rocha rap(p)ing the microphone with his sharp voice that cuts right through the mix, crystal clear. Dirty Beats successfully mixes rap and drum'n'bass (listen to the string melody, it's so rap it makes 2Pac look white!) but that's exactly why I don't particularly like the track, nice beats aside. And while I'm rambling on about the rap elements, Who Told You is another very annoying track. The rhythms and themes would have made a great, different and exciting drum'n'bass track but thanks to the even-more-annyoing-than-usual vocals it fails to redeem the track. But it's not all bad, far from it in fact. Even though you will find lyrics on (almost!) every track, they're less annoying in others. Examples of cases where either the drum'n'bass element is too good to dismiss or the rap element is subtle enough to not be a liability include System Check (chopped beats straight out of New Forms, but still works), Ghetto Celebrity and Snapshot (the rapping in the intro is painful but the overall quality, rhythm and the graciously offbeat synth makes up for it).

Now I've talked about the bad half of the album - time to say something about the good. Right from the outset, we get a direct reference to New Forms with Railing part 2. There are worse ways to kick off an album. But the way it leads us into the beautifully progressive In + Out is perfect. The same can be said of the track, which is among the strongest on the album. It starts out with a melody riff that says "get up and dance" and then shifts into gear with a really fat bass that cries out for a subbass unit. Actually, there's a high-pitched mirror of the bass melody going on syncopated with it, and if you have poor speakers, that's all you're going to hear of it! The actual bass is far below it, and when you hear it, it really makes the track sound plenty different. Then, towards the end, we get a lot of progression in Roni Size style, not terribly unlike Brown Paper Bag of New Forms, actually. Mexican starts out with a similar melodic hook and then splashes those dirty breakbeats all over. This track doesn't really progress, just modulate - which is all well and good too. Tracks like Balanced Chaos, Switchblade and Heavy Rotation go for a more experimental beat which works well.

The rap elements are a massive turn-off for me, I can't help it. What could have been a 3 or 4 star album is now at about 2. When I listen to the album, I find myself simply skipping the most problematic tracks. Still, that leaves me with a few good tracks. Just like New Forms, In The Mode offers a brilliantly varying and highly satisfying collage of different sounds and beats. Is it better than New Forms? No, I don't think it is. Is it worth buying? Hell yes it is. But if you're thinking about buying a Roni Size album, start with New Forms, and only get this afterwards.

TOP TRACKS: In + Out, Lucky Pressure, Mexican, Play The Game

Tracklist

  1. Railing pt. 2
  2. In + Out
  3. System Check
  4. Ghetto Celebrity feat. Method Man
  5. Lucky Pressure
  6. Balanced Chaos
  7. Switchblade
  8. In Tune With The Sound feat. Rahzel
  9. Who Told You
  10. Heavy Rotation
  11. Staircase
  12. Mexican [Sample]
  13. Dirty Beats
  14. Centre Of The Storm feat. Zack De La Rocha
  15. Snapshot [Sample]
  16. Play The Game
Image of CD

Mercury Records LTD 2000

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Review by Saboteur


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