ALBUMS

ALBUM REVIEW: PIG&DAN – DESTINATION UNKNOWN (BEDROCK)

“Destination Unknown” is Pig&Dan’s latest album incarnation and probably everything you were least expecting.  

pig and dan destination unknown bedrock records pig and dan

CD1 starts off with “Urban Armchair,” a retro-synthy chillout track that merges the 80s easy listening sound with heavy vox pads, soulful vocal stabs, and smooth, graceful, non aggressive drum work. With a vinyl induced old school guitar riff that screams classic downtempo, there’s some melodic flavor to this one that reminds one of both the soul of classic electronic music as well as the importance of live-oriented instruments in their history. Very cool track, fun to listen to.

The laid-back vibe gets shall I say dubbier with “Dub It In,” our second taste of Destination Uknown’s initial direction. With some classic dub reggae influences in the heavy delayed echoes that permeate the groove of the track, as well as some tribal-influenced percussion, I’m reminded of early Peter Tosh, some darker Bob Marley, and even the more underground ragga influences promoted by legendary DJs like Rodigan. The heavily flanged muted guitar stabs, and the super distorted horn fills only cement this in my mind. Yet the highly processed electronic tone they take give this track a modern fusion that really separates from merely trying to be an imitation: it definitely makes a unique mark in it’s own right.

“Friday Freaks” combines many popular electronic sound effects with some more live instrumentation, which captures what can only be described as a deeply moving emotional premise. The live oriented drums scream new age jazz, the guitar is almost folksy, and the beautifully placed electro blips add so much power to groove. The highlight overall for me though is that this acoustic guitar is such a game-changer: the organically simple riff just melts all over the mix, providing both movement and ambience. The somewhat DnB influenced dub bass glues everything together from there. Excellent stuff.

“Freefall” featuring Malcolm Duncan takes it even farther into the jazz world, with a great improv-influenced sax weaving in and out of the arrangement, complimented with some dissonant chorded organ work, backed up by some ethereally deep vox and ambience pads. There’s even some traditional R&B flavor in there, and for all you lovers of a time when music was still about artistic merit, the quality of the musicians involved here shines through the song. Additionally, I love that jazz has made such a comeback in modern ambient music, and we’ve seen it with Bedrock’s earlier compilation releases this summer as well as Nick Warren’s Soundgarden compilation. By far one of the most influential genres of human history, it’s great to see Pig&Dan giving it it’s proper time in the spotlight here.

Next up is “China Doll” with some new sounds brought to the foreground. Tribal drums and filtered pads start us off on a truly organic sounding journey. The references to New Age and World Music are immediately apparent, with an ethnic flute riff permeating the back of the track, and the acoustic guitar’s support to the movement giving it an almost Peruvian Traditional feel. The use of the wind chimes, the rain maker, and the shakers only further compliment this feeling, and the sense of diversity in sounds here combined so well only further makes for an enjoyable listen.

“Unplugged,” featuring Joan Bibiloni & Malcolm Duncan, starts us off very differently, with a heavily reverbed acoustic guitar strumming off a classic instrumental rock riff, and from there the build leads us even further into some 1970s oriented funkadelic rock flavor. The saxophone gives a taste of Easy Listening, and the cinematic strings add a sense of the epic, but the overall it’s the relaxing groove of the beat that puts you right back into a time when rock’s beauty was in it’s simplicity. I enjoyed the unexpected Juno-influenced stabs that made an appearance later in the arrangement as well (think melodic progressive house), and while they were a deviation from the other instruments sonically, they fit very well into the track’s chilled vibe. A little bit of the electronic never hurt anybody, and like in “Urban Armchair,” it gives the track a sense of being unique, and not merely an imitation.

We’re greeted next with “Too Much Space,” a Breakbeat, Experimental influenced little jam that focuses on it’s core beat and sticks to a simple, vibey drum/bass combination that carries one through a little sonic trip of different sounds and emotions. From the piano fills to the spacey, heavily processed sound effects, the diverse movement keeps it all interesting and well rooted around the solid groove. The experimentation with effects here as well keeps it interesting, and as you journey through the arrangement you’re never quite sure what to expect next, so by the time the track begins to conclude, you’re left with a warmly satisfied feeling.

“Charas,” is up next, with some even more new sounds that Pig&Dan have taken pleasure in experimenting with. There’s some more jazziness in the feel here, but aside from that we’re treated with a much more diverse layout sonically. A nice alto sax, some more laid back guitar riffs, and a heavy, powerful bass all combine nicely to form a smooth overall texture to the track, but what I also enjoy are the subtle hints to Bossa Nova and some Latin oriented melodies. It’s not enough so that you could say the track markedly leans in that direction, but just enough so that you can feel the undertone, which gives the track it’s own feel and stands it out from the other jazzier pieces in the album. It’s got a certain sophistication to it in this regard that makes for a cool piece overall.

The penultimate track on CD 1 of Destination Unknown is “Silk,” which focuses the listener on more solid drum work, a gritty pick bass, and some more ethereal pads that give a drastically different feeling compared to what we’ve previously heard. Yet another beautiful saxophone solo once again brings up memories of not only classic jazz but also of old rhythm and blues. The defining factor in this one however, is it’s darker undertone. So far this album has been relatively light, and this change in mood shows a different emotion that is only further highlighted by the supplemental synth effects and generally brooding drone that permeates the background.

CD 1 wraps up with “Windchime,” which also begins on a darker note, and it is interesting to note that Pig&Dan chose till now to greet us with these feelings. The synth riff that remains the staple of the track’s overall melody keeps this dark mood firmly in control, so while the pads and saxophone may wander in occasionally uplifting directions, the listener is constantly grounded in a minor, somewhat sadder foundation. I’m really enjoying all the diverse pad work here: there’s so many different ones that weave in and out of the track, from string sections to vox to warm swells, and they all fit perfectly. It keeps it interesting and emotionally very captivating, which is why this track is a fitting end to what has been a very strong release so far.

The second half of Destination Unknown commences with “We’re Cooking Hard Work,” featuring Giacomo & Aqueel on the support side. Now we’re truly in uncharted territory sound-wise, as Pig&Dan opt for a traditional old school Hip Hop sound, with full on rap vocals providing the core of the track. Didn’t think you’d see that one coming? Well no worries, as for those of you who appreciate older traditional Hip Hop, you will certainly see all the influences of hallmark artists like A Tribe Called Quest and Notorious B.I.G. With a simple, steady background beat, the track let’s the vocals take center stage and do their lyrical work to convey the main message of the song. Clearly not an attempt at being fancy, “We’re Cooking Hard Work” keeps it down to earth and allows for the listeners to take the time to hear what the rapper is saying, as opposed to focusing on any intricate bells or whistles.

“Magic Wake Up Call,” takes us more in an eclectic house direction, drawing influences from classic progressive, traditional deep house, and dub reggae. The steady bass line forms the core of the track, with conventional high hats on the downbeat and a solid kick comprising the driving elements behind the beat. In the meantime, we’re offered a variety of heavily processed guitar, vocal, and drum stabs that weave in and out as the beat and bass continue forwards. Great use of delays and reverb to create a wide open space, which gives the psychedelic feel to the track that keeps it interesting.

“Es La Vida” takes us for a turn yet again, and this time back in the direction of traditional Latin music even more obviously referenced here than seen in “Charas” from CD 1. A Spanish lead vocal is clearly the most visible element we have here, and it forms the most memorable feature of the track. Elements of tango and salsa are immediately apparent as well, with Spanish guitars providing the basis for the instrumental movement. Ethnic South and Central American percussion seal the deal, and had you not known who wrote the track, you might very well think you were listening to Spanish radio as opposed to Techno kings P & D.

“Tokyo Twilight” returns to hybrid fusion of several different genres, featuring a 90s R&B beat, a pad melody that intertwines Pop and Chillout, and some Experimental percussive work that layers through the background. A steady piano melody keeps everything grooving together, and little effects such as a Latin vocal stab not only add to the diversity but keep the track from ever becoming too repetitive. Unique is the best way I can describe this: it’s something you’ll truly have to hear for yourself. With elements spanning a lot of influences you wouldn’t often think come together, it’s got a feel to it that is, quite simply, different.

For you all missing some of the jazzy goodness put forth on CD 1, guess what: it’s back! “Rimshot Shuffle” sees the return of Malcolm Duncan with some more beautiful solo work, layered nicely again with some groovy drums and bass. The rhythm also returns to some of the Breakbeat Chillout vibes we saw earlier as well, with steady percussive elements, big wide open drums, and dubby textures that once again give a spacey feel to the track. The reggae influences make some small appearances again as well, and overall it’s another well rounded laid back sound that has in my mind become the focal strength of Destination Unknown. Well crafted, well thought out, and well executed, it’ll be yet another take that gets you grooving in no time.

Reggae has already made quite the mark on this album, but “Positive Vibrations” takes it up yet another notch, and even throws in some Dancehall as well for good measure. Featuring the vocals Paul de Swardt in a straight up Ragga/Hall arrangement, the track’s lead touches on everything from Shaggy to Junior Kelly’s hybrid Jamaican sounds. What really changes things up here though is the rest of the track is undoubtedly tech house. The bass is bouncy and super dance-friendly, the percussion crunchy and tight, and the effects totally built around a house oriented arrangement. The horns and muted piano stabs still offer a taste of Reggae, but this is a dance track at the end of the day, and another interesting twist in what so far has been a journey full of unexpected surprises.

“Supersonic” goes back to the darkness we started hearing at the end of CD 1, with some emotionally rattling distorted vocals to greet us, a huge synth riff gyrating in sonic forefront of the track, and some minor piano chords hitting on every eighth bar that keep things sad. The atmospheric effects that pan back and forth throughout the track as it builds in complexity add a really sophisticated touch, and they are managed well and appropriately, never deriding the solid groove nor the dark sentiment. There’s a touch of Acid influence here, particularly when we arrive at the breakdown, and the use of filters to gently glide elements in and out keeps things very dynamic. By far the biggest track that stands out in CD 2 for me so far, and primarily because of it’s out of the box creativity. The song has a lot going on simultaneously you have to process, but they all lead you back to this dark, deep feeling, and thus you can only conclude that the different elements implemented here are all done excellently.

We’re greeted next with “Rasta Blasta,” starting off dark and moody once again, and throwing on the heaviest Dub sounds yet seen in the album (oh yes, just when you thought they couldn’t get more dubby, Pig&Dan went there!). Hugely delayed percussive effects, a heavy bass, and some traditional Ragga drum work make this one trippy, dark journey. What I really love here though is the use of all the swelling pads: that’s not something you would expect to hear in traditional Dub, and thus the artists are once again showing us their own take on a particular genre, and pulling it off well on top of it. The pad work throughout Destination Unknown has been excellent, and to see some heavy reliance on those again in “Rasta Blasta” is sonically delightful. Vox, strings, swells: it’s all there, and all executed to a T. Nice work once again.

We wrap up the album with the track from which it derives it’s name: “Destination Uknown.” Starting off with some heavy experimental sound effects, off rhythm drums, and some more voxish influences that breath a bit of life into the arrangement, we’re taken on our last dark journey through a mellow soundscape that seems to aim to explore how deep this sound can take you without making you feel emotionally at odds with it’s premise. It succeeds in this sentiment, as it walks a sonic tightrope of sorts in which it never quite gets too experimental or crazy, yet at the same purposely unsettles you from time to time with some unexpected twists. An interesting finish to what has surely been an interesting sonic journey.

James Gill’s Verdict: This is a side of Pig&Dan that was unexpected, to say the least. Fusing Chillout, Reggae, Breakbeat, Hip-Hop, and lots of Jazz is not what usually comes to mind when thinking of one of the most influential Techno duos of all time. But clearly, that was Pig&Dan’s intention: they wanted to give us a different side to the story, and moreover exemplify that they have wide musical range to pull from when getting creative. In this respect, they have most definitely succeeded.

In offering up a tasteful collection of diverse sounds, keeping underlying themes throughout the album that were strong and identifiable, and then throwing in some curve ball tracks that were totally unexpected, they kept it interesting, unique, and thought-provoking. The surprising amount of depth from track to track is nothing short of praiseworthy. Destination Unknown is well worth the listen. 8/10.

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