by Hannah M.G. Shapero, Usenet's rec.music.newage
Roach fans, this is your wake-up call! After the calm ambient depths of SLOW HEAT and the Western driftwood of DUST TO DUST, BODY ELECTRIC bursts into the soundscape with a driving exultant rush. Not since 1997's ON THIS PLANET has Roach, along with his excellent collaborator Vir Unis and other fine sidemen, produced such compelling, percussion-driven work.
BODY ELECTRIC proves again to me that Steve Roach is the most creative and versatile composer working in the electronic-music field today. BODY combines all the rich repertoire of sounds that Roach has built up over the last 20 years, everything from synthesizer work and sequences and tape loops to Native American and worldwide percussion, to odd wind instruments like Mayan trumpets and ocarina, to chanting and electronically altered vocals. This one's got it all: electronic growls, clangs, drums and rattles, industrial noise, mystical hoots, Robert Rich-like "glurp," sounding stones and grinding rocks. And all of it makes me want to get up out of my computer chair and free-dance to the rhythm.
The tracks move seamlessly from one to another, and each one features a different rhythmic exploration. The pace is varied with quieter interludes of Roach's trademark floating chords and ambient space-desert views. But there are also times when the rhythm roars into the realm of shamanic trance-beat.
The mix of different sounds – and different players – is better than ever here. Roach and Vir Unis work perfectly together. For instance, in track 3, "Mind Link," the familiar cool contemplative Roach chords are layered under an explosive, steam-puffing mix of electronic rhythms, rattles, and grinding-stone zings. And in the middle of this noisy train ride, you hear the night-song of the little tree frog and the crickets from SLOW HEAT!
There is a continuity from one track to the next, so that a listener can hear the rhythm metamorphose as the album goes on. While there is always something new coming down the sound- road, there is a progression from the high energy of the earlier tracks to a slower, heavier pace in the later pieces. Because of this attention to pacing, BODY ELECTRIC feels like one large continuum, rather than a collection of separate musical pieces.
Among these slower (but still percussion- driven) pieces in the middle of the album there is the weirdly humorous track 6, "Homunculus Within," which features transformed, sighing or yelping human voices, like the sounds of lovers in the Underworld, along with tropical bird calls. This moves into industrial clanking that sounds like a construction site in the jungle. As the album moves on, it flows into more ambient spaces, such as track 8, "Solar Tribe," where the percussion is muted against nocturnal drones and Roach's own eerie vocal soundings.
The pace picks up again for one more power ride, in track 9, "The New Dream." This almost- "techno" construction carries the listener along on a steely rail of sound, until it melts into the last piece, no. 10, "Cave of the Heart." Here, BODY ELECTRIC finally winds down, in a slow, dragging rhythm that has an almost physical effect, fading into smooth ambient soundwashes, like the "cool- down" after a workout. Indeed, after listening to BODY ELECTRIC, you will want to catch your breath! Some (wimpy, wussy) listeners may find it too intense and too exhausting. It's not an album to listen to when you want to calm down or have a relaxing time in the bubble bath. Even though it is, at roughly 57 minutes, about 15 minutes shorter than many of Roach's previous works like ARTIFACTS or ON THIS PLANET, it is one of his most intense albums yet. This is powerful work from a professional in his prime.
A few words on the graphic packaging: BODY ELECTRIC comes not with the typical CD folder insert, but with small, separate square sheets featuring the black, yellow, orange, and purple eye- blasting computer art of Steven Rooke. It is a look which refers back to the psychedelic '60s, but is updated to the digital '90s. It is a fitting face for the work of the premier musical techno-shaman of our time.