Wagonchrist – Toomorrow (Ninja Tune/Border) CD REVIEW

I’ve loved Luke Vibert’s music since I chanced across his first longplayer, the appealingly titled Throbbing Pouch, way back in 1995. Back then, the cutting and splicing of samples was still rather novel, but some were simply better at it than others.
Vibert (aka Wagonchrist) used increasingly sophisticated means over the years to make increasingly clever confections, but always kept his distinctive flavour. Thrown into the blender were French easy listening records, and the loopiest grooves he could find and mutate, together with a sense of fun/humour that differentiated him from other so-called “trip hop” exponents.
There was always something a cut above the rest about Vibert’s work, which despite its groove orientation, was also good couch-nodding fodder, because it was smart, surprising, and sonically inventive.
I’ve got nearly all his albums under different guises, and none has disappointed me as much as Toomorrow. All the usual Vibert stylistic tics are there, but it feels as if he’s taken a leap back in time and sophistication. This may be conscious, but his decision to load the album with obvious samples of funkateers like James Brown gives the project a layer of crust that… well… makes it seem like some half-assed second-rate Ninja Tune project from the ‘90s.
The title tune, for instance, uses Kraftwerk-style robot voices, MOR orchestral samples, orgasmic moaning, silly synths and hammering xylophones. And James Brown. At his best, Vibert would be able to stitch all these constituent elements together into an outrageous musical quilt, but this it fails to cohere.
‘Manalyze This!’ uses a cacophony of voice samples, squelchy synths and a slice’n’dice methodology that simply sounds dated. Having said that, it’s a track that does have a few tricks up its sleeve, and by the end, he’s managed to weave some magic into his morphing funk moves.
‘Ain’t He Heavy, He’s My Brother’ (don’t you just love his funny wordplay?) is full of James Brown exhortations, and it’s as close as Vibert has come to music by numbers with its predictable pitch shifts and string stabs.
‘Respectrum’ leans on African jazz/funk samples, and is particularly boring.
Actually, I took detailed notes for every track on this album, but reliving the experience on the typed page is galling.
Instead, I’ll mention the one track that really stands out from the crowd. ‘Lazer Dick’ is at last a piece that has the usual attention to detail, and is more like the Vibert style we’ve come to expect in the past decade. That is: no obvious samples, plenty of sonic splendour. It’s simply several notches better than anything else here.
To these ears, Luke Vibert is sounding a little tired, and in need of inspiration. Perhaps a newcomer will think it’s wonderful, and compared to the bog-standard groove rider, this is still well above average. It’s just that he could do so much better. GARY STEEL
SOUND = 3.5/5
MUSIC = 3/5

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