- When I listen to a great Nebraska record, I'm overwhelmed by how much there is to love about the music of Ali Gibbs. On the surface, there's his inimitable sound—laidback yet driving, luxurious yet thoroughly unpretentious, heartfelt but never cheaply so. His last eight tracks for Rush Hour, in the form of 2009's A Weekend On My Own and last year's Four For Four, do more work over the course of each track than do most multi-hour DJ sets, which is why his next eight for the Dutch powerhouse are a little disappointing: Gibbs sounds as gold-plated as ever on Displacement, his second album, but his tracks lack the sense of compositional danger that make a ride in his luxury liner such a singular experience.
Our voyage sets off with great promise. With a light but palpable thump that's all Nebraska, "Allahabad" goes off like a particularly rowdy Ralph Lauren ad: Gibbs gets us tipsy, but we'd never even think to perspire. The album then takes a swing through surprisingly tedious territory. "Phtalo Blues" explodes with novelty, but there's little subtlety in its bursts of disco. All the elements are there on "The Mountain"—punchy kick, feel-good sample, perfect balance of sounds—but the track never quite grows. You're dropped off somewhere, and you stay there. If that track never lands, then "Aitch Aitch" never takes off in the first place: as a simple bassline lopes around a collection of disappointingly obvious string pads, we see an arrow on the map, but it points in no particular direction. "You & I" strives to be epic, and with the sort of pitch-perfect, driving percussion that Nebraska absolutely owns, it nearly makes it. Still, there's very little here that catches you by surprise.
Of course, when Gibbs is on, he's a tough producer to argue with, and Nebraska grows bolder as the cruise reaches its port of call. On "The Cruives," Nebraska mixes up a brew of humid strings, mutated choruses, bouncing voices, and soaring breakdowns. It'd be on fire if the thing wasn't glistening with sweat. The heavyweight "Patina," shifting from one groove to the next, is an invitation to dance like an unabashed fool. Slow and sweet, "Characteristics" is the closest thing here to vintage Nebraska, driven ecstatic by gorgeous bells and drum hits that don't release so much as evaporate.
I'm happy to be let off on such a wonderfully sensitive note, because honestly, things were pretty touch-and-go for awhile. Displacement collects what is most obviously awesome about Nebraska at the expense of what is possibly best about Nebraska: variety, both in the music itself and what that music evokes. While there are certainly some wonderfully transcendent moments, listening to Displacement feels a bit like trying to sink your teeth into Cliff's Notes: you know the plot, but you're missing the poetry.
02. Phtalo Blues
03. You & I
04. The Cruives
05. The Mountains
06. Aitch Aitch