- Matthew Herbert, the mad, eggheaded scientist of leftfield electronics is back in 2010 brandishing a new glut of concepts and tunes. However, whereas his last full-lengther, There's You and There's Me, featured 2,000 samples and over 350 participants, Herbert is re-entering the musical fray scantily clad. Thankfully he appears to have kept his clothes on, but One One, as the title betrays, is all about Herbert.
Written, produced, performed and recorded only by the man himself, he's described the record as his most honest release since he performed in 1995, only aided and abetted by a pepper pot. One One is the first part of a trilogy the beat boffin has been brewing up for the new decade. The second instalment is based around recordings from a night at Robert Johnson in Frankfurt, the third will be based on samples of the life of a pig, reared, slaughtered and eaten on Herbert's farm in Kent. The songs contained within One One are named after places (from Valencia to Tonbridge) and supposedly signify "a day in the life" of a single man. Perhaps only Herbert himself may be able to discern what relation this theme has to the forthcoming albums in the trilogy.
For a man who has utilised food, condoms, 70-piece orchestras and hundreds of samples in previous aural outings, it's disarming to hear him sing in such an intimate fashion. And delicately croon he does, all over the ten tracks in question. Although beautifully produced and gently rippling with ideas, parts of the record require repeated listening to ensure they leave an indentation on the ears. The man's cracked vocal shimmer is reminiscent of Spiritualized's Jason Pierce, or early works from behatted troubadour Badly Drawn Boy. As a result his singing, which arrives bound in gossamer threads of electronica, is so soft the songs sound as if they might blow away in a strong breeze.
While it's an undeniably brave move to shed much of the musical weight which accompanied previous releases with his big band or on albums such as Plat du Jour, the likes of "Porto" and "Valencia" need more musical meat to prevent them from floating off. If you're hoping for dashes of colour provided by Dani Sciliano's silky tones or some form of twisted jazz house, then you need to look elsewhere. It's when Herbert raises his voice above a whisper, that the record becomes more intriguing. "Leipzig" is the loudest tune on the record, combining a tale of nocturnal narcotics with a stealthy backing.
Perhaps One One opens Herbert to accusations of whimsy, but the album is certainly an ear-opening insight into where his ever-expanding head is currently at. It's also brave step after the opulence of his Big Band output: Despite over 15 years in the game, his ability to keep his audience guessing with each release shows no sign of abating. As Herbert drawls in "Leipzig," "Who knows where this journey will be taking us?" Turns out only him...
06. Palm Springs