- The acid house group's first album in 17 years is a brave attempt at reinvention that too often falls short.
- Graham Massey and Andy Barker recorded Transmission Suite, the first 808 State album since 2002, at the legendary former Granada Studios in Manchester. They worked at big, arced desks loaded with synths and defunct TV mixing equipment. 80 TV screens, blank and grey, lined the walls. The building holds special significance for the duo, who, like Joy Division and The Beatles, made their TV debut at Granada, performing their big hit "Pacific State" on Tony Wilson's show, The Other Side Of Midnight, in 1989. The studios are a part of 808 State's history.
Like Granada, which will soon become a modern complex spanning bars, offices, hotel rooms and flats, Transmission Suite straddles the past and the present. As well as acid, IDM and electro bombs, influenced by the sounds coming out of Detroit and Manchester in the '80s and early '90s, there are footwork tracks and contemporary beat experiments, music partly inspired by the duo's love of the Manchester party and label Swing Ting, whose sound is a club-ready mashup of dancehall, reggaeton, garage and UK funky. The album has bags of character and is big on ideas. Unfortunately, not all of them work.
With one exception, the LP's best tracks are all takes on classic styles. Take the opening run, easily the record's strongest section. "Tokyo Tokyo," whose video was shot at Granada Studios, is tunnelling acid house with a funky lead. "Cannonball Waltz," woozy and captivating, is 95-BPM IDM. "Huronic" and "Landau" recall seminal electro acts such as Drexciya, their melodies starry and vivid amid cosmic atmospheres. "Angol Argol," which comes towards the end, is built around a sparky synth line whose ping and timbre feel timeless. It's as if 17 years had never passed.
The only modern-sounding track in the opening run is the excellent "The Ludwig Question," a fizzing 160-BPM cut with skittish percussion, shamanic vocals and dramatic switches in tempo. You can imagine it slotting into a Kode9 set, so nicely does it balance rhythm and earthy sounds. Other attempts at contemporary styles are less successful. The drums and eerie melody on the footwork-inspired "13 13" are great, but why the loud machine-gun fire midway? Or the scraping sound soon after? I had to check my laptop wasn't playing two tracks at once.
These kinds of jarring sounds and heavy-handed ideas dominate the album's second half and ultimately spoil the record. At times, it's hard to accept that the same artists are responsible. How could the minds behind the classy, restrained "Huronic" also deliver the brusque stabs on "Westland," the out-of-tune harmonica sound on "Pulcenta" or the rudimentary horn blasts on "Bushy Bushy"? These cuts, plus "Trinity" and "Crab Claw," feel rushed and unfinished, which is odd given that Massey and Barker apparently whittled down Transmission Suite's 15-strong tracklist from an initial bank of 30 to 50 productions. You want to praise them for making a bold attempt at reinvention, but it's hard. Too much of the LP just isn't up to scratch.
01. Tokyo Tokyo
03. Cannonball Waltz
04. The Ludwig Question
12. Angol Argol
13. Bushy Bushy
14. 13 13
15. Crab Claw