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"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno

Blurt FEBRUARY 10, 2010 - by Ian Mathers

UNDERWORLD VS MYSTERONS: ATHENS

It's a shame that the AV Club has already run their least essential albums of 2009 list, because as enjoyable as it is, Athens would have been a perfect fit. Whatever you think of the seminal techno act, this compilation (made with The Misterons, AKA two of the band's live collaborators) is probably not what you were expecting.

Beginning with Alice Coltrane's ravishing, Pharoah Sanders-assisted Journey In Satchidananda, Athens initially seems like an exploration of how jazz has influenced various kinds of music, from Squarepusher to Soft Machine to the Detroit Experiment. But the latter act's Space Odyssey, coming after Roxy Music's swaying 2 H.B., signals a turn in the mix, which follows electronic music icons Moodyman and Osunlade to Underworld's own Oh, previously unreleased except for its inclusion in the A Life Less Ordinary soundtrack (and much jazzier than the band normally gets). From there there's just a few lengthier dancefloor-inclined offerings from Laurent Garnier and Miroslav Vitous before Athens ends with the pleasingly oddball Beebop Hurry, a collaboration between Underworld's stream-of-consciousness frontman Karl Hyde and Brian Eno.

is pitch perfect. The gap from Mahavishnu Orchestra's You Know, You Know to Garnier's Gnaumankoudji (Broken-Afro Mix) is fairly wide, but listening to Athens the journey from one to the other feels completely naturally. The band set out to collect songs that had influenced them, with a focus on the kind of musicianship that they feel modern electronic music doesn't always traffic in, but despite these high level concerns Athens mostly works on a purely visceral level. It's great late night music, with few/unobtrusive vocals, a consistent mood even as the sonic and compositional techniques used shift, and a cohesively drowsy, laid back feel to the proceedings. But maybe I'm just jaded by the internet, because it does feel odd to consider walking into a record store and paying $13.99 (the current price on Amazon) for this.

For better or for worse, then, Athens doesn't so much resemble commercial product so much as it does a mix made by a friend who spends way too much time listening to music. It's got the kind of casual depth and intuitive, sometimes surprising flow that only stems from a real love of the art form. Most likely only a massive Underworld fan will feel compelled to purchase a copy, which is a shame, given the quality of what's on display here; perhaps casual fans will hear the call, too.


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