Thursday, September 6, 2012

Album Review: Keith Le Blanc – Stranger Than Fiction (1989)

As a follow-up to my post earlier today – see immediately below – I reviewed Keith Le Blanc’s Stranger Than Fiction album a few years back for another website. I thought I’d reproduce that review here ...
Keith Le Blanc loves percussion. More specifically, Keith Le Blanc loves the drums. And drumming. And sampling, sequencing, cutting, and pasting. And he’s the man behind some of the earliest, most primitive, and most innovative drum machine-programming known to man. Keith Le Blanc’s obsession at times borders on genius. All of those passions, and more, are evident on what I believe to be his most consistent piece of work to date; the 1989 album Stranger Than Fiction. (Although in saying that, his 1986 release Major Malfunction is more often cited by critics as his landmark work).
Well-travelled producer extraordinaire Le Blanc first made a name for himself as part of the original Sugarhill scene back in the early Eighties. He and the likes of Doug Wimbish and Skip ‘Little Axe’ McDonald - both of whom also feature on here - worked closely with Grandmaster Flash and various other early iconic rap artists. If I’m not mistaken, it was Le Blanc who provided the beats behind ‘The Message’ and he himself released one of the true electro classics from that era - ‘Malcolm X:No Sell Out’ - on the then-fledgling Tommy Boy label.

From there Le Blanc, Wimbish, and McDonald all went on to form the backbone behind the acclaimed hard dub/funk-orientated Tackhead, their output through the late Eighties and early Nineties being quite prolific - some of their best stuff coming out on Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sound label. Le Blanc & co. have also released work under a variety of other aliases (see: Fats Comet, Strange Parcels, among others) and Le Blanc himself has been quietly working his way around the fringes of a whole spectrum of different electronic genres during two decades of huge technological expansion. Quite simply, the man’s a legend. Or at least he should be.
Although Stranger Than Fiction might be considered slightly flawed due to some of the sudden, almost cut-throat changes of pace it inflicts upon the listener, it is - rather perversely - an album perhaps best listened to in one sitting; that every track is well worth listening to means that you’d only end up missing some of the best bits if you attempted to pick and mix to any great extent. Le Blanc samples and name checks a vast array of historic and iconic figures, everybody from Einstein (on ‘Einstein’ - oddly enough) to Count Basie (on ‘Count This’) to Lenny Bruce (on the superb and very funny closing track ‘Comedy Of Errors’). Vocalists - sampled or otherwise - include Gary Clail and the late Andy Fairley, while Le Blanc again surrounds himself with a first-class posse of top session men who provide the multiple layers atop of his eclectic beats.
What we end up with is an album that almost defies description; moments of what can only be described as pounding industrial Hip hop followed by interludes of ambient spaced-out synth - such as on the track ‘Men In Capsules’. There’s even a jazzy vibe to it in parts. A little bit of everything in fact. It’s also an album that (lyrically) doesn’t shy away from the various political and social issues of the day - thanks to plenty of clever sampling - but mostly it’s an album that contains a helluva lot of exceptional soundscaping work from the master himself. The fact remains - for all of his talent, for all that his work has had an enormous amount of influence across several of the more obscure genres in existence, and for all that he has worked with some of the very best names in the business, Keith Le Blanc is still relatively unknown (in a commercial sense).
Now, that really is stranger than fiction.

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