Pitch Black – Rarities & Remixes (Remote/Rhythmethod) CD REVIEW

The duo of Mike Hodgson and Paddy Free, known conveniently as Pitch Black, have exceeded expectations in longevity, and after more than a decade of work, here’s their first album of remixes of other people’s work. Which means, for those who find themselves confused by this remix malarkey, that it’s distinct from the remix albums they have issues previously, which consist of remixes by other artists of Pitch Black’s work. (I’m suddenly very tied. Can I go to bed now?)
There are both positives and negatives about NZ’s foremost electronic group’s output. They have seemingly never deviated from their original working methodology, which makes their sound somewhat predictable – although I’m sure they would disagree with me, claiming subtle tweaks, technological advances and stylistic tics as major deviations. To this observer, however, while their early output contained drum’n’bass elements, and their mid-period was more influenced by German minimal techno, at the heart of everything they’ve done has been a sense of jamming on an industrial dub grid.
The positive aspects of this include a body of work that’s entirely consistent, and the sheer enjoyment factor of those raw ingredients. So, despite the predictability of their music, I’ve always been something of a fan, because they’re so good at what they do. I don’t know exactly how they do it, but Pitch Black music doesn’t sound like its trapped inside computers, unlike so many electronic tracks. It sounds more like they’ve found or made sounds, textures and rhythms that they then work up in a subterranean basement somewhere deep in the bowels of the city, by actually jamming them into life in a room.
Rarities & Remixes is the first Pitch Black release in some time, and just to make CD purchasers feel inferior, they’ve released it via Bandcamp as a hi-res digital download with extra tracks. Like any remix album, it’s at least partly true to say that the tracks are as good as the source material.
There are some notable departures in style, but those departures relate exclusively to the music of the artists they’ve remixed, not to Pitch Black’s contributions, which are in their trademarked techno-dub grooves. Opening track ‘Te Po’, for instance, is a reworking of one of Richard Nunns and Hirini Melbourne’s imagined Maori flute music. The original recording is great, and PB’s version is enjoyable, but does little more than add those digital dub effects. Similarly, their epic remix of ‘A New Day’ from the Laya Project (Indonesian tsunami fundraiser) adds some welcome ethnicity (table, fiddle) to their music, and is big on atmosphere, but does go on a bit.
The most interesting aspect of Rarities & Remixes is the way it combines early tunes with smack-up-to-date ones. ‘I’m A Wanderer’ is one of several Pitch Black-sourced tracks, an in fact, their first-ever track, from 1996, and it shows that they already have their characteristics firmly in place; the only real difference being the darker industrial atmospheres are more prominent than later work. The Tom Cosm remix, on the other hand, sounds as sleek and hi-res as you’d expect from a 2011 production, and it works a treat.
I love the way they rework Katchafire, ridding ‘Sensimillia’ of its inherent clichés, but it’s just a bit too brief. But their 1999 dub of Salmonella Dub’s ‘For The Love Of It’ scrubs up well, too – it’s a skanking groove that is remarkably spatial considering its age.
The other best tracks are ‘Kaikoura Dub’, a song they made for Whale Rider, and their very bass-heavy dub of International Observer’s ‘House Of The Rising Dub’.
In the end, I’m presented with the same old Pitch Black dilemma: an album that I would happily listen to, and enjoy every time I do so, but also an album in which there’s a slight sense of underperforming. Maybe one day, this talented group will stretch out and make something really radical and challenging. GARY STEEL
Music = 3.5
Sound = 4

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