Listeners unfamiliar with Phonat’s choppy, cut-up style will be disconcerted within 30 seconds of the Italian ex-pat’s debut album.
Opening track A Warm Welcome begins with a blend of snatched samples and periods of silence that will convince some their download or CD is faulty, though the tune soon reveals itself as a multi-genre mongrel. There’s a motif stolen from The Chemical Brothers’ Galvanize, a bassline from Jocelyn Brown’s Somebody Else’s Guy and experimental bleeps aplenty across three tempting minutes.
Phonat, aka now London-based Michele Balduzzi, has made a name for himself with this magpie approach among DJs both credible and popular. The Avalanches are an overt influence in this respect, particularly on Get Down My Dirty Street, where a touch of James Brown grit is thrown together with Krafty Kuts party breaks.
Set Me Free is the most neatly representative song on the album. After a swirling trance start, the tune warps into acid-touched techno strangeness. From music for hairdressers to music for sadists in one brave leap, it’ll keep both listening. But better is the mighty 2008 single Ghetto Burnin’. Massive Attack collaborator Yolanda Quartey, of Phantom Limb, contributes an incendiary dancehall vocal which rides atop a terrific Cassius-echoing bassline and Ewan Pearson-style digital trickery. It’s scintillating stuff.
The constant snippets of sound can grate, though, despite the generally innovative nature of what’s on offer. Love Hits the Fan is one tiresome offering, coming on like Aphex Twin trying to subvert filter house in obvious fashion. London is another relative letdown, sounding like second-rate Justice.
But two weak songs can’t ruin a record so fearless. Learn to Recycle more than compensates for the duff duo on its own: hip hop, house and drum ‘n’ bass beats all rinse out over a sampled pop chant and filthy synth to invigorating effect.
Phonat is a sonic chemist of impressive capability who successfully mixes unlikely source components to create something fresh. He’s bound to influence rookie producers in his wake, but he’ll need to work hard to stay at the vanguard of popular dance music. --Lou Thomas
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