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Free The Robots - CTRL ALT DELETE [Album]

Free The Robots - CTRL ALT DELETE [Album]

Apha Pup

Review 3421 Views
Last Edited by: Chris MUG5 Maguire May 26th, 2010.

Hardcore fans of Flying Lotus or Noisaj Thing will be well served by the debut album from LA’s Free the Robots, but I’m not sure his appeal will stretch beyond that particular type of music fan. We’re dealing with experimental electronic music here. And while Free the Robots does chuck in some interesting ideas to keep this minimalist Dubstep/Hip Hop hybrid (hereafter referred to as Wonky) album sounding relatively fresh, there simply aren’t enough of these ideas to justify some very repetitive beats and truly punishing song lengths.

I’ve got to admit, the first thing I thought when I received ‘CTRL ALT DELETE’ was that Flight of the Conchords song (you know the one I mean) and kinda figured that I’d be subjected to 40 minutes of robotic kitsch and Casio-led ditties about mainframes and the like. Luckily this wasn’t the case but, this being Experimental Hip Hop, a rough theme of robots and sci-fi does run through the record in the form of bleepy synths and the choice of instruments. Nowhere is the influence of sci-fi felt stronger than in opening track ‘Sci-fidelity’ in which a Theremin is brought in to create a kind of Doctor Who theme for kids who make music on their laptops. It’s a heavy, driven beat based on some spacey, oscillating synths and a real drum beat, but the Theremin lends it a cheap Sci Fi movie feel. Eventually a jazzy piano sample is brought in to great effect, contrasting with the doom-laden heaviness of the song and for a while; it’s very good and genuinely sounds innovative and fresh. However, it does get dull because after the introduction of the, admittedly excellent, samples the track doesn’t really have anywhere to go and it just plods along. As the Theremin and piano aren’t enough to sustain interest for a full 6 minutes(!) of fairly repetitive Wonky dance music, despite the introduction of some G-funk synths towards the end of the track.

‘Granite Rock’ is another highlight on the album that carves itself out a shifty little beat with a Rock drum backing and wandering synths, bleepy overtones and deep sub-low bass. It’s one of the more up-tempo numbers on the album and all the better for it, as the abundance of slow-paced, minimal Dubstep tunes such as ‘Turbulence’ or ‘Turkish Voodoo’ can get a little samey. In the Flying Lotus tradition, it mixes the deep, dark, sub-low bass of Dubstep with the soul and melodies of Hip Hop very well, as does ‘Orion’s Belt Buckle’, a track that skitters around your speakers with hyperactive synths and electronic noises and samples coming at you from every direction.

There are some elements of Jazz in the record and for the most part they work very well. On ‘Jupiter’, the keyboard’s allowed to wander over a slow-paced, heavy beat that is best described as swimming through treacle. On ‘The Eye’ Ikey Owens, better known as the keyboardist from Mars Volta, uses a Moog synthesiser to noodle around over a frantic drum beat. With each of these novel additions you get the sense that Free The Robots has something new to bring to the Wonky style and demonstrates that electronic music as a whole has a lot of options to move forward and develop.

However, these are the best bits and all those moments of promise are almost ruined by a simple matter that could have easily been fixed at any stage in the recording process, that of song length. With Wonky in general, the tracks are often quite repetitive, the idea being that the beats are so carefully crafted that it doesn’t matter or even becomes better and more appreciated as the track progresses, and that’s fine. On "CTL ALT DELETE", though, songs regularly clock in over the 5 minute mark, with ‘Sci-fidelity’ and ‘The Eye’ over 6 minutes, and ‘Global Warming’ totalling an ear-wilting 9 minutes and 8 seconds! He wouldn’t be the first artist to release long songs and I do ‘get’ that this is an experimental album within an experimental field, but to pull it off you need to have a lot of variation or a fantastic vision that can’t be properly fulfilled in under 5 minutes. While Free the Robots does have some innovative ideas that I’ve already highlighted, their simply aren’t ENOUGH of them to justify these marathon song lengths and all too often you get bored and switch off as the beat is left to run for yet another reprise which by that point you don’t really want.

There are lots of good elements and a few good ideas too but not enough to justify some of the punishing song lengths and that alone will be enough to put off all but the most devoted Wonky electro fans. Free the Robots needs to either learn to cut tracks down, or step away from their music enough to cut out the fluff when there simply aren’t enough ideas to keep a track going beyond the 5 minute mark.

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