Bullion compiles pop-celebrating covers of Elliot Smith, Fleetwood Mac and Simon & Garfunkel.
Bullion, the London producer living in Lisbon, spends his time reckoning with history. Specifically, Nathan Jenkins is involved in an exhaustive study of the perfect pop song. A few times a week, Jenkins and a loose confederation of musicians, DJs, label owners and journalists add a few entries to Pop-not-slop, an ongoing playlist that rigorously defines the jaunty aesthetic Jenkins explores with his own productions and his label, Deek Recordings. There's a joyful anarchy to the list, with '80s chart-toppers like Tears For Fears sitting alongside Martin Newell's cult group Cleaners From Venus, Electric Light Orchestra next to Dunkelziffer, and so on. Jenkins is trawling pop's dustbin, finding the best bits so you don't have to.
This concept is extended on Deek's covers compilations, now in its fourth iteration with 4 Down. On the 11-track set, Bullion presents irreverent studies of brilliant pop songs, old, new, popular and obscure. Jenkins himself has a hand in four of the tracks, with other contributions coming mostly from emerging or underground artists like Kreme (of CS + Kreme), or London up-and-comers Joviale and M. T. Hadley. We get the sense that Bullion is honing both his studio and A&R skills, fashioning himself as a modern version of 4AD's production mainstay John Fryer. A more modern analogue might be Todd Terje, who studied the subtle dynamics of disco with a series of legendary edits before fully embarking on his own takeover.
But all this makes 4 Down sound like an airless exercise. This is pop music after all, and the inventive approach Bullion and his cohort bring to these covers is often startling and always a lot of fun. Highlights include Joviale and Bullion's spectral dancehall reading of Rare Silk's 1985 algorithm hit "Storm" and M.T. Hadley's transposition of the tightrope vocal melody on Elliot Smith's "Easy Way Out" into an off-kilter synth pop arrangement. Then there's the Deek supergroup Nautic (comprising Jenkins, Laura Groves and Timmaz Zolleyn), who turn in a wistful take of Fleetwood Mac's "Only Over You," a perfect complement to System Olympia's stripped-down reading of Mazzy Star's sad pop landmark "Fade Into You."
Bullion's pristine approach shines on his collaboration with Westerman, a Balearic take on Simon & Garfunkel's "Kathy's Song," but he's also recruited a couple of weirdos to stir the pot. Kiki Kudo & Brian Close's take on Elsa's maudlin 1986 French pop song "T'en Va Pas" sounds like a MIDI-assisted Penguin Cafe Orchestra, while Kreme confuses with a bizarre Auto-Tuned version of Larry Heard's "Missing You."
The focus of Pop-not-slop and the covers compilations is the elegant '80s, which sometimes means that the natural, swinging funk of a cut like Bill Withers' "Heartbreak Road," which Bullion covers here, gets lost in the translation to synths and drum machines. Still, in a scene often obsessed with sound design and functionality, Jenkins' spotlighting of pop songcraft is admirable. On 4 Down, his reverence for a great song is contagious, and the studious enthusiasm of the artists here makes the compilation, like the songs covered, worth treasuring.
Tracklist01. Joviale - Storm
02. Camila Fuchs - Inside Out
03. C.A.R. - Making Plans For Nigel
04. Westerman - Kathy's Song
05. System Olympia - Fade Into You
06. M. T. Hadley - Easy Way Out
07. Nautic - Only Over You
08. Kiki Kudo & Brian Close (Georgia) - T'en Va Pas
09. Kreme - Missing You
10. Bullion - Heartbreak Road
11. Nathan Micay & Ben Osborne - Watching Trees