- 1998 was a significant year for Mike Paradinas. He'd just released his fourth and most successful µ-Ziq album, Lunatic Harness, which still holds its own today. He was a supporting act for Björk on her Homogenic tour. And after three taxing years with Virgin, Planet Mu was reborn as a fully independent record label. In between, Paradinas was recording a crazy amount of music—"often a track or two every day"—which goes some way to explains why now, 20 years later, we're starting to hear some of it.
Challenge Me Foolish is the third compendium of "lost" µ-Ziq material to surface on Planet Mu in the last three years—the fourth if we're including Expert Knob Twiddlers, the reissue of Paradinas' collaborative album with Aphex Twin. It compiles music written between 1998 and '99, and serves as a retrospective primer for the orchestral pop leanings of Royal Astronomy, Paradinas' fifth µ-Ziq album.
Both Royal Astronomy and Challenge Me Foolish feature tracks with the Japanese vocalist Kazumi. "Goodbye, Goodbye" was the former album's sentimental closer, while the twee pop of "The Fear" gave Royal Astronomy its gooey centre. On Challenge Me Foolish we are, perhaps, treated to the ones that didn't make the cut. The tracks range from the saccharine drum & bass of "Sad Inlay" to the naff kookiness of "Durian," neither of which have aged particularly well. The album's breezy title track is the best of these, though it would've been even better without the carnivalesque melody lines in the second half. Without these whimsical flourishes, though, it wouldn't be µ-Ziq. Unlike his more somber IDM peers, Paradinas was never afraid to sound cheerful.
As for the instrumentals, "Robin Hood Gate" and "Perfame" could be further Royal Astronomy castoffs with their chimes, orchestral strings and sense of grandeur. "Perhaps" is composed of warbling "oohs" and "ahhs" and mewling, zithering synths. It's silly genius, if you have the stomach for that sort of thing. The polarising breakcore track "Ceiling" provides some much-needed hard-edged spasms. The lackadaisical "Bassbins" could be aligned with the arguably more palatable IDM-breakbeat sound of Lunatic Harness, or of Luke Vibert's Plug alias. But it's "Peek Freans" that really typifies the jingling optimism and strange psychedelia of Challenge Me Foolish, an album that's alluring in passing, but might not have you doubling back for a closer inspection.
03. Challenge Me Foolish
05. Robin Hood Gate
12. Sad Inlay
13. Peek Freans