Bowery Electric sucks life from trip-hop sound

Any time a new sound or style is introduced in music, it comes in waves. The first wave of bands is the innovators, the creators. The second wave takes the new sound and waters it down, makes it more commercial. By the time you get to the third wave of bands, everything that made the new style interesting is bleached out.

Take trip-hop. The first wave of artists such as Massive Attack and Portishead created a new dark and urban sound. Then you had groups such as Sneaker Pimps and the band’s one hit, Six Underground.Now, with Bowery Electric, the third wave has come. Bowery Electric’s new album Lushlife (Beggars Banquet) sucks out everything that made trip-hop interesting and dangerous, leaving behind an empty shell.

Bowery Electric used to be an interesting band. It was one of the few American bands to pick up on the shoe-gazing and drone-rock sounds coming out of Britain at the beginning of the 1990s. Bowery Electric’s first album was filled with washes of feedback and sound ? la Spirtiualized and Spaceman 3. As the group progressed, it added electronic effects and beats to anchor its dreamy sound.

On Lushlife, any hint of feedback, or even guitars, is gone. Instead, the band stuck with the electronic sound, morphing into a third-rate trip-hop/lounge band. The album starts out promising with Floating World. Menacing noises come out of the speaker, only to be replaced by tinkling synth notes. Then you get Portishead lite – dirge-like beats, an occasional scratch and a female voice that sounds more bored than dangerous.

The bored female voice pretty much sums up the sound of Lushlife. She sounds as if she just stumbled into the studio, sang what was in front of her and then stumbled out again. The music does the same thing in your ears. Songs such as Shook Ones, Soul City and Saved go in one ear and out the other. Bowery Electric puts too much emphasis on the trip in trip-hop. This is music to drink Nyquil to.

Occasionally, there are some neat touches. Freedom Fighter is probably the most upbeat song on the album and has the best potential for sticking in your head. It opens with actual guitars and real drums, things that give the song a jolt of energy that most of the other songs lack. The vocals still come at you in an unattached style, but, when contrasted with the music, they actually work. Soul City opens with a cello that sounds like it was lifted from a horror movie. Although the sound first grabs you, the rest of the song sadly lets you go.

The old saying is You can’t judge a book by its cover. If you want a good idea about Lushlife, the cover is the best place to look. It’s almost all black, with just the faint outline of a car and some city lights. The back just shows a New York City skyline at night. Both sides are mostly dark and unnoticeable. So is the music on the album.

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