In the grand scheme of electronic music, it’s only been a short while that Aaron David Ross has been actively releasing material, yet already in that time any thread of stylistic consistency seems to be rapidly unraveling. It’s an interesting notion that can be often viewed as problematic, suggesting an indecisive spirit and a reluctance to perfect one discipline rather than having a crack at many different ones, but then in the illustrious world of machine music and its infinite possibilities, fortune tends to favour the brave.
As one half of Gatekeeper, Ross has already garnered a healthy amount of praise after releases on Fright, Merok and the rather ambitious video game soundtrack concept album Exo for Hippos In Tanks, and here he returns to the latter label with his second album under the ADR moniker. His last LP as an acronym inaugurated the wonderful Public Information stable in 2011, and between those two previous works lies a world of difference. Solitary Pursuits concerned itself with brassy synths carefully processed to a warbling distraction, working the thick wads of melody into a dramatic tapestry of 80s incidentals rich with texture but kept rhythmically straight-forward. Exo however was a complex work of Artificial Intelligence style electronica full of techno intricacy, bold sound design and the rush of head-spinning levels of sonic information.
Chunky Monkey sees the script is upended once again; any hapless fan of Solitary Pursuits would be instantly thrown off by the live bass augmented chord that kicks off “Casual Friday”, instantly heralding a sound world far from the VHS-noir of his previous LP and instead tapping into the smoky murk of Mo Wax flavoured trip hop. It’s a refreshing move in some ways, not least when a glut of lo-fi productions appear weekly at present and it builds on the skills revealed on Exo by honing intricate and refined production for an end result that
delights the mind.
In that first track alone, the live drum breaks move with dexterity, the metallic chords come in ice cold, the acid bubbles vicariously, the trumpet licks come fluttering in and out like a passing flock of birds, and the atmospheric found-sounds create a staggering depth in the mix. It harks back to an era of marvel at the sound world that an adept producer could craft through refined placement of elements, and all the while a low-slung funk cruises away in the foreground making for thoroughly easy-listening on top of all the subtleties.
There’s a lot of pleasing familiarities to this LP, from the wistful flute intro to “Slush Fund” to the Sabres Of Paradise dub tones of “Stray Dog Strut”, while the tweaked hip hop bounce of “Don’t Fret” captures the groove if not the specific synthy mood of early Boards Of Canada. These are all mere associations rather than definitive reference points, but there’s no denying the vibrancy of imagination that was prevalent in 90s electronica coming through in abundance on this album. In that sense, there’s one similarity which shines more than any other, tied into that opening supposition of Ross’ chameleonic tendencies. It’s hard not to hear the playful spirit of Luke Vibert at many turns on this album, and the man from Cornwall certainly represents the treasures to be found in a wonderfully unpredictable career that spans from madcap drum & bass (Plug) to bonkers downtempo (Wagon Christ) to dark side jungle (Amen Andrews) to gutter-dwelling dubstep (Spac Hand Luke) to machine-driven disco (Kerrier District) and far beyond.
For Aaron David Ross, it’s still very early days, with his first releases not four years behind him, where Vibert has been at it since the early 90s. In that sense, with these early indications pointing as they do, it’s quite thrilling to wonder where Ross will be heading next. If the quality remains as immediate and satisfying as Chunky Monkey, he could be just the sort to bring as many different kinds of electronic joy as someone such as Vibert, which can be no bad thing. All he needs to do then is spend a little more time on his album titles.
1. Casual Friday
2. Slush Fund
4. What It Takes
5. Social Studies
6. Home Improvement
7. Big Daddy
8. Stray Dog Strut
9. Don’t Fret
10. Whiz Kids