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Herbert - Scale

Herbert Scale
best of 2006Herbert - Scale
(CD) Accidental/!K7 !K7202CD, 2006-05-30

Tracklisting :
01. Something Isn't Right
02. The Movers and Shakers
03. Moving Like a Train
04. Harmonise
05. We're in Love
06. Birds of a Feather
07. Those Feelings
08. Down
09. Movie Star
10. Just Once
11. Wrong

Links :
Video & free MP3 :

Press Release :
'Scale', Herbert´s utterly beautiful new album, contains echoes of all his musical identities: jazz, house, techno and avant-garde sample collages, not to forget a good deal of pop appeal. Dani Siciliano, the velvet-voiced chanteuse and Herbert´s most frequent vocal collaborator, again features prominently on this album, adding this certain "je ne sais quoi" to the tracks.

With his new album 'Scale', restless musical innovator Matthew Herbert has produced his most accessible and mellifluous song collection to date. In just a decade as a recording artist, Herbert has become Britain's most inventive and prolific electronic composer, recording under his own name as well as Doctor Rockit, Wishmountain, Radio Boy, Transformer and others. Globally respected beyond narrow scenes or genes, he has also produced and remixed artists as diverse as Björk, REM, John Cale, Roisin Murphy, Yoko Ono and Serge Gainsbourg.

'Scale' is a culmination of these achievements to date, containing echoes of all Herbert's musical identities. In a career spanning jazz, house, techno and avant-garde sample collages, his most frequent vocal collaborator has been his partner Dani Siciliano. The velvet-voiced chanteuse again features prominently on 'Scale' alongside the singers Neil Thomas and Dave Okumu, who fronts the band Jade Fox and has previously collaborated with SA-RA Creative Partners, 4 Hero, IG Culture, Courtney Pine and many more. The album also features a chamber orchestra, a woodwind section, French horns and many of the big band players heard on Herbert's 2003 album, 'Goodbye Swingtime'.

On the surface at least, 'Scale' is Herbert's smoothest and sweetest album so far. The overall tone is bright and opulent, the prevailing musical chatter a sophisticated conversation between luxuriant jazz, sumptuous disco and sensual house rhythms. In this grand ballroom of sound, silken ballads such as 'Something Isn't Right' or 'We're In Love' jostle for floorspace with syncopated, club-friendly tracks like 'The Movers And The Shakers' and 'Moving Like A Train'.

Elsewhere, Herbert's deep roots in experimental electronica and musique concrete come to the fore on the swirling, artfully deconstructed 'Birds Of A Feather' and the ultra-percussive montage 'Just Once'. Woozy and warm in feel, tunes like 'Harmonies' or 'Those Feelings' sound simultaneously avant-garde and soulful.

Herbert's last full-length release, 'Plat Du Jour' from 2005, was a highly political concept album that used the food industry as both sonic source material and subject matter. Beneath its deceptively glitzy surface, 'Scale' is no less serious, taking as a key theme the end of the oil era and the violence done in pursuit of this finite fossil fuel. But this is not an angry or even an overtly political record. Much like its sonic experiments, the subtext is subtle and playful.

"This record was designed to be more of a celebration," says Herbert. "The task I set myself was really just to revisit my song side. To try and do these songs in an interesting way but ultimately to just enjoy the melodies and harmonies. I didn't want the album to buckle under the weight of too many ideas, which 'Plat Du Jour' did at times. I don't want it to be like 'The Da Vinci Code', where people are trying to crack it. I'd rather be 'Foucault's Pendulum'."

In making 'Scale', Herbert also relaxed the Dogma-like restrictions of his self-imposed Personal Contract for the Composition of Music. Devised in 2000, the PCCOM prohibits the use of pre-set keyboard sounds, drum machines, or secondary musical sources. Mistakes and accidents also become key to the compositional process.

But, like any good scientist, Herbert knows rules are made to be broken. "I put the rules to one side for this record," he explains. "I just wanted to do whatever felt right, whatever allowed the songs to work in a spontaneous way. The irony is, by the end of it, I had probably stuck to 98 per cent of the rules anyway. For example, I certainly haven't sampled any other people's music on this record, but one track was made with 177 different messages left on an answerphone we set up specifically for the album."

Which explains the tiny photograph of an answerphone on the album cover, a collage of the 723 objects used in the making of 'Scale'. It may not be obvious on first listen, but beneath its subversively smooth surface the record contains recordings of coffins, petrol pumps, meteorites, an RAF Tornado bomber, and somebody being sick outside a banquet for a notorious London trade fair for international arms dealers.

Breaking another of Herbert's self-imposed rules, 'Scale' also features live drums recorded in bizarrely diverse conditions: under the sea, in a hot air balloon, in a labyrinth of subterranean caves, and in a car travelling at 100 miles per hour. "I wanted to record them on fire as well," he says, "but we never got around to doing that. Maybe next time."

Most of the unusual objects on 'Scale' were deployed in groups of 12, a thematic nod to the western musical scale of 12 notes. But the album title also has another meaning: scale as in perspective, the means to gauge the distance between past and present, childhood and adulthood, personal contentment and global discontent. Finding a way to measure his own life as a successful musician with freedom against a global backdrop of war, poverty and inequality.

"Hopefully the album still has that celebratory quality, even though it's a kind of sad," Herbert concludes. "To be honest I'm pissed off with myself. I wanted to write an upbeat pop record, but I didn't. You can't do that when Dick Cheney is in control. The world is so messy at the moment, I couldn't bring myself to do it. But I would really like this record to be considered upbeat. It's designed to be enjoyable."

Ah, but 'Scale' is much more than enjoyable. It is a sumptuous banquet of soulful pop made with integrity, intelligence and invention. Proof that, even in troubled times, the best music can be both playful and political, serious and sublime. It is all just a question of scale.


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