X: The Human Condition
Hypnotical Entertainment/Nova Music Productions, Inc., 2010
REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/31/2010
As a chillout trip-hop collective, X: THC does everything a fan of such music might appreciate on its “Pay What You Want to Support the Artist” debut, X: The Human Condition. The album’s perpetual slowness provides the right grove for its solemn undertone, which can seem a bit obsessive sometimes. The fairly uncomplicated numbers aren’t experimental or eccentric by any stretch of imagination; they simply follow what’s tried and tested. The result is definitely something that works for sure, however it may not be too original or too different from what’s already been attempted before.
Even without trying something exceptional, X: THC has done a pretty good job. This means following the league of a stalwart like Portishead too religiously and as a result, sounding too much like it. The opening cut “Hide” might be tad polished for the “Portishead” style, but with its lazily creepy vocals, record scratches, and the all too familiar limp beats, the resemblance is too striking. “Sleeping With One Eye Open” goes the same route, except that the beats have a more industrial edge. “Mr. Happy” is the only song that has vestigial Portishead elements, which are used to create something quite authentic: A total chillout track that’s beautifully hypnotic and not hung up on a desire to be uber-deep or dark.
For an album such as this, with its dense layers of music and sound effects, and where the ambience that the music creates is as vital as the music itself, the band for the most part does a impressive job in parenting a mysterious cloaked sound, where the parts are not clearly discernible, but the whole is a weird and wonderful pastiche. But on cuts like “A Human Flood,” “Tag You’re It,” and “Like Violins,” the shadowy music gets too choked up, and the different dynamics of the music are reduced to one big flat muted vacuity.
This record bends over backwards – sometimes with utmost clumsiness and sometimes jubilantly in a trice – to achieve a solemn Cimmerian mood. But the way it embraces and utilizes its influence of the less dreary world of eighties pop music is a perplexing and a pleasant surprise. The songs “Don’t Cry,” “You’re Worth Fighting For,” “Monster,” and “The Creature From The Blackened Room,” have a strangely Spandau Ballet-like quality in their smooth and jazzy choruses and their relative uptempo spirits in comparison to the rest of the record – X: THC is simply brilliant when it attempts synthesis of the good vibes of eighties pop with the bleak downtempo moodiness of trip-hop.
Confining it may seem, but trip-pop can be inventive and surprising, as bands like Lamb, Portishead, and Massive Attack have shown time and time again. X: The Human Condition is not inventive and surprising. But a great trip-hop record, it certainly is.