Pitch Black – Third Light (Dubmission) REVIEW
Pitch Black – Third Light (Dubmission) REVIEW
Renowned more for their reliability than adventurousness, NZ digital dub group Pitch Black try a few new tricks on their new album. So says GARY STEEL in his Pitch Black Third Light (Dubmission) review.
Auditioned on TIDAL HIFI and compact disc
Since 1997 the duo of Mike Hodgson and Paddy Free has continually claimed their own musical territory on the New Zealand firmament, filling halls and clubs with indefatigable skanking and writhing bodies whenever they reconvene for a tour.
That’s obviously become a bit harder since Hodgson moved to England some years back, slowing Pitch Black’s output. But they were never a prolific project, and Third Light is only their sixth album in 22 years, if the inevitable remix projects aren’t counted.
It’s always been hard to tell exactly who does what. But my guess is that session guy Free handles the more conventionally musical elements while Hodgson – with his industrial art and visual background – contributes the uneasy ambience and textural treats.
My hypothesis would seem to be backed up by Hodgson’s solo project, Misled Convoy, which started out almost entirely in the ambient domain, and is free of the bouncy groove elements that make Pitch Black a commercial proposition.
I’ve always found myself something of a Pitch Black agnostic. While I enjoy their sleek electronic sounds and could happily listen to them for hours, they’ve never struck me as particularly adventurous or leading edge. This is especially the case when compared to a contemporaneous project like Germany’s Monolake, and it has sometimes felt like they’ve milked the formula dry.
Having said that, I have enormous respect for them, both musically and conceptually. Free and Hodgson found a style that they loved, and fused the elements in such a way that they found an audience; an achievement that few other NZ electronic acts have managed, outside of cravenly populist dance names.
In any case, after leaving the project on ice for some time, they’ve reconvened for an album that’s quite a departure from their sound. There’s a less overtly industrial soundscape going on. But more of a moody, worried ambience that – according to the press release at least – reflects the times we live in.
I feel uneasy about reading specific meaning into instrumental music, but the addition of echoed electric piano reinforces the idea that they’ve been listening to Brian Eno and Harold Budd, and perhaps a couple of the other electronic artists who have adopted this technique in the last decade or so.
The piano, together with the fact that the beats are often less than pronounced and less dance-oriented than in the past, reinforces the pensiveness of the sound. This addition to the Pitch Black palette gives the music a lushly melancholy feel on the opening ‘The Silver World’, as it does on ‘Daylight Wasting’ and especially the filmic ‘The Lake Within’ with its blanket of orchestral synth.
I shouldn’t make too much of the piano, though, because it’s on fewer than half the tracks. Elsewhere, they often employ the old trick of using ‘found voices’ which they manipulate to their own ends. On ‘One Ton Skank’ there’s an echoed megaphone voice bleeding across the stereo spectrum. And it’s a piece that will work live. Because it eventually breaks into a faster, more danceable beat – a bit of a solid techno beat to give it a trance party blast that old fans will adore.
‘Artificial Intolerance’ (good name) is an almost Tackhead-style piece with its dirty synth and ‘Pocket Calculator’-style bleeps and intense beats.
‘A Doubtful Sound’ features dialogue about US operatives who were thought to have been the victim of sonic warfare. And then the song itself picks up speed with particularly nasty synth, and a modern approximation of drum and (sub) bass to give the big woofers a workout.
Pitch Black’s Third Light Album Review – Verdict
Is it a great sixth album for Pitch Black, then?
It’s certainly a worthy slight deviation from the formula. But Third Light feels a little tentative to me, like a side project that they’ve fitted around busy schedules, and worked on individually, from opposite sides of the earth.
My assumption may be totally wrong, but I found something a little unconvincing about some of this album, for all of its strengths. But then again, maybe I’m just too picky. I’d have preferred that electric piano to echo more, because at times it just sounds a little antiseptic. And the bass tended to sound lumpy on my stereo system… but maybe that’s my issue, not theirs? (Or maybe the bass is mixed exclusively for subwoofers rather than superb woofers?)
Pitch Black disciples certainly won’t be unhappy with Third Light, and the curious might even find it more accessible than previous outings.
Me? I’ll hang out for the next Misled Convoy album.
* Pitch Black performs their new album at Auckland’s Neck Of The Woods venue on K’Rd on October 17.