Meat Beat Manifesto: 'Answers Come In Dreams' – CD Review

Many years before it was trendy to kick around the term “industrial” or “techno” when describing electronic music with an experimental edge, driving beats and underground club appeal, Jack Dangers was twiddling knobs, patching cables and mangling samples to create dark, twisted soundscapes under the handle Meat Beat Manifesto. This year, Jack has assembled a new collection of haunting, infectious beats, mind-altering melodies and futuristic soundbites for MBM's latest project Answers Come In Dreams – which takes the sound down an even more mysterious path, blurring the lines between sound and vision so far as to produce an eccentric sci-fi/pop culture media mashup for virtually every track on the album. I took a look and a listen, and I've got the full breakdown below the fold. Read on to learn more, and witness some of the bizarro audio-visual experimentation coming from MBM's mad science lab...

First, a little MBM 101: since Meat Beat Manifesto first assembled in the UK in the late '80s, they've experimented in a dozen different musical genres – including industrial (Storm the Studio), high-energy techno (99%), dance-oriented electronica (Satyricon), dub (Autoimmune) and even jazz (At The Center). Their ability to bounce back and forth between styles while maintaining dance-floor appeal got them a short-lived deal with Trent Reznor's former label Nothing Records (they had also previously opened for Nine Inch Nails during their first tour) and led to a series of NIN remixes including "The Perfect Drug." Since then, MBM tracks have found their way into The Matrix and Underworld series, and even in the oddball “Josh's Blair Witch Mix” tie-in CD to The Blair Witch Project.

Since around 2005, Jack and company have integrated multi-screen video into their live music presentations in some revolutionary new ways, triggering video clip montages on the fly as they mix and mash sounds and samples, morphing and mutating the background images in real-time. Recently they've also started to repackage that experience in their music videos, and in the weeks leading up to today's release of Answers Come In Dreams, MBM began unveiling the first batch of promo clips using this technique. Here's one kinda creepy example, using a cut-up video approach for the track "Totally Together":

The tracks themselves are mainly constructed around a core of catchy percussion that doesn't so much make you want to dance as draw you relentlessly into a hypnotic state. It's no surprise that Jack and company incorporate so many fast-moving hallucinogenic images into their videos and performances, since this underlying electronic pulse seems to loosen up your mind to wild visual stimulus. Most of the tracks begin as moody, dreamlike ambient pieces but often take a sudden 180 into chunky dub beats or mid-tempo drum 'n' bass grooves, with little flickers of eerie samples, robotic vocals and sparkly synth textures sprinkled on top. It's a very simple formula, but it definitely sets a mysterious mood if you turn off the lights and ease into it.

"Luminol" opens the album with deep, heavy and slow beats which lay the groundwork for an enveloping cloud of swirling chimes and radio static; this hypno-groove is the norm for much of the record, driving trip-hop-style cuts like "Let Me Set," which has a strange worm-like crawling feel, broken only by sudden outbursts of vocal samples (mainly the three words of the title). More heavy beats permeate "Waterphone", which features the distinctive sound of the title instrument being filled and played, creating an otherworldly bowed metallic tone that feels like chimes being played underwater. "Mnemonic" derives the same energy from retro-electro percussion, which clicks along steadily as a low buzzing bass pattern is cloned into multiple layers of fuzzy distortion.

There are also several free-form, abstract-sounding pieces on Answers, often venturing into the dark ambient domain: "M.Y.C." is all deep drones, low bell-tones and cavernous winds, before a strange robotic voice creeps into the mix, announcing the beginning of a mid-tempo drum & bass loop, as brighter chimes and samples flicker in and out; "Token Words" dishes up a thick soup of vocal samples in a swirling echo-chamber of cosmic drones. But it's not all navel-gazing mood music: there's some frantic club-friendly grooves here – like "#Zero," an old school sci-fi jam of Dr. Who blips, bleeps and burbles mixed with silky voice samples, propelled by a simple but powerful kick pattern. "010130" has a light and jumpy rhythm that's one of the most energetic on the album, making it kind of disappointing that it's only one minute long.

But the coolest entries here manage to balance moody atmospherics and heavy grooves in just the right proportions: "Quietus" comes off as a tension-filled horror soundtrack cue, complete with eerie backward choirs, ghostly whispers and deep drones, all smashed up in a chunky dub-step groove; warm electronic insect buzzing sets the stage for some unsettling samples in "Zenta!" including a witch-like cackle and chopped-up advertising slogans; "Please" presents the first and only touch of guitar on this record – but don't get too used to it, because it's quickly stomped flat by a gargantuan bass line. The album ends on a suitably cinematic note with "Chimie Du Son," which opens with analog synths reminiscent of the groundbreaking Forbidden Planet score, then brings in a simple slow beat along with more sci-fi effects and jittery machine noises. The song eventually deconstructs into its individual parts, then tears the parts down into digital grit.

Being a more experimental venture, Answers Come In Dreams is a little hard to pigeonhole, especially since Dangers has managed to integrate all of the dozens of musical styles he's absorbed over the years, chopping them up and pasting them together in a constantly-evolving flow of beats, textures and moods that are too intense to be straight chill-out music... but there's an unsettling, dangerous feeling oozing through many of these cuts that puts just a little fear into the mix. If you're reading this, then there's a fair chance you'd consider that a very good thing.