Newly reissued with different artwork, Porter Ricks' second album is a fitfully compelling and somewhat perplexing mixed bag that I somehow managed to never hear until now. My befuddlement is largely due to the fact that the first Porter Ricks album (Biokinetics) is an all-time dub techno classic, so I would have expected Andy Mellwig and Thomas K√∂ner to expand further upon the formula that they had perfected to great acclaim. Instead, the duo took a more stylistically fluid approach, occasionally returning to Biokinetics-style dub, but also dabbling in dark ambient and some unexpectedly funky strains of house music. That said, it is probably wrong to view Biokinetics and this album as intentional statements or clearly delineated phases of a linear artistic evolution, as both releases are compilations of singles and EPs and Biokinetics got all the great Chain Reaction ones from 1996. This one collects all the Force Inc. EPs from the following year, so these pieces could be anything from Chain Reaction-era outtakes to stylistic experiments to a stab at greater accessibility (though that is hard to imagine, given the cold bleakness of K√∂ner's solo work). In any case, there are still enough strong pieces to make this an enjoyable album, but anyone hoping for the focus and distinctive vision of Biokinetics will probably want to moderate their expectations a bit before diving into this one.
This uneven and eclectic collection of songs makes a lot more sense if one considers how they were originally released, as the album is essentially four stand-alone singles and their flipsides. And in classic dub fashion, the B-sides tend to be variations of the raw material from the A-side, so there are basically four separate thematically unified clusters of songs here. There is one notable exception, however, and it is the album's longest and strongest piece: "Scuba Lounge." I do not believe it ever surfaced on a single before appearing on this full length (the Trident EP featured a different "Scuba" piece), but it definitely sounds like it should have been on Biokinetics. It opens in deceptively formless fashion, elegantly blurring together burbling scuba sounds and ominous industrial ambiance, but soon coheres into a killer menacing groove of gurgling bass and seething, slow-motion crunch. The other pieces closest to the Biokinetics vein are "Redundance" series from the Vol 1 and Vol 2 EPs. My favorite of the lot is "Redundance 3," which combines the relentless forward motion of its shuffling beat with an impressively gelatinous and gnarled sounding synth motif. The remaining four "Redundance" pieces are a surprisingly varied lot, taking roughly the same themes in very different directions, as K√∂ner and Mellwig alternately veer into hissing, coldly futuristic ambient ("Redundance (Version)"), a sensually kitschy vintage burlesque show groove ("Redundance 5"), and‚Äîweirdest of all‚Äîa Bo Diddly beat ("Redundance 6"). Similarly wrongfooting are the pieces from Explore/Exposed and Spoil/Spoiled. For example, "Explore" sounds like a New Jack Swing groove augmented with a very insistent wah-wah guitar theme, which the flip resembles guitars from The Church mashed together with a hypercaffeinated, percussion-heavy, and out-of-control strain of synth pop. That said, "Spoil" is inarguably the biggest shock of the album, as an unrelenting house thump barrels along with a very in-your-face funk bass line and some jangly guitars. It sounds far more like a purposely ham-fisted house remix of an A Certain Ratio single than anything I would expect from Porter Ricks. The smeared, hallucinatory, and submerged-sounding flipside ("Spoiled") is right up my alley though, approximating a building-shaking rave as heard from a neighboring alley. While I wish I loved more than a handful of songs here, I am delighted that this reissue called my attention to a few old classics that were new to me, as Porter Ricks has a tragically lean discography for an influential project that has now spanned a quarter century.
Samples can be found here.