Remember when triphop was the future—or at least the blazing-hot present? It was the early '90s and a bunch of English marijuana aficionados were baking extraordinarily blunted mutations of hiphop, slowing the tempo, muting the MC, and making ideal soundtracks for incandescent erotic endeavors. Alas, triphop went the way of most interesting musical movements, becoming commodified, attenuated, and moribund.
Along with fellow Bristol inhabitants Tricky and Portishead, Massive Attack were part of triphop's Big Three. While Tricky has lost the plot and Portishead have entered a phase of hermetic woodshedding, Massive Attack have maintained a high quality level for 15 years.
Led by Grant "Daddy G" Marshall and Robert "3D" del Naja (Andrew "Mushroom" Vowles left the group in 1998 following the release of their third album, Mezzanine), Massive Attack's founding members (including Tricky) established their rep as the Wild Bunch, a sound system/DJ crew who formed in 1983 and were renowned for their eclectic tastes. They eventually changed their name to Massive Attack and made a critical splash with their 1991 debut Blue Lines. (Tricky departed after 1994's Protection to pursue a solo career.) Blue Lines lays a classy, resinated sheen over reggae, dub, funk, soul, and hiphop while inaugurating the now-common approach of deploying several guest vocalists—including Shara Nelson, Tony Bryan, and Horace Andy—to lend greater emotional shading to the recordings.
Although Protection dipped slightly in quality, it possesses some of Massive Attack's most sublime efforts, including the title track (sung by Everything but the Girl's Tracey Thorn) and "Karmacoma." The former—a gorgeous, languid paean to chivalry—is the best thing Thorn's ever done, while the latter is one of the greatest dub tracks ever, a hypnotic, menacing, and sensual apotheosis of Massive Attack's strengths. Remarkably, these songs and six more from Protection were improved upon by dub sorcerer Mad Professor on the 1995 remix disc No Protection. The Prof imbued these tracks with deeply psychedelic ganja power and created a stone(d) classic in the process.
With 1998's Mezzanine, Massive Attack's music became even darker and more ominous, with cuts like "Angel" and "Risingson" striking pitiless, foreboding tones; Daddy G sounds like he's croaking from his deathbed. Even Cocteau Twins' angelic Liz Fraser—who coos on three songs—can't lift Mezzanine from its doleful morass. But as doleful morasses go, this was phenomenal; you have to respect a work that makes a solar eclipse seem festive. On 2003's 100th Window, Massive Attack deviate even further from their roots into more cinematic, moody orch-rock territory. A revitalized Sinéad O'Connor stuns on the sinuous "Special Cases," perhaps the most opiated political song ever not from Jamaica.
Massive Attack continue to weave a mesmerizing spell while aging gracefully, as the new Collected CD/DVD proves. Tricky could learn a lot from this not-so-wild-anymore bunch.
THURSDAY APRIL 20
THE KING BRITT EXPERIENCEAnyone who's DJed for Digable Planets, one of the most underrated hiphop groups ever, deserves respect. King Britt worked his magic behind the decks for DP when they were resurrecting the birth of the slick in 1993–94; now he takes on myriad projects that exploit his ravenous curiosity and stylistic diversity in the studio. A stint producing house tracks for fellow Philadelphian Josh Wink's Ovum imprint segued into several Philly-centric projects that explored Britt's phenomenal affinity for soul, funk, jazz, and hiphop. Along the way he's become a highly sought-after remixer. Tonight Britt'll be playing a four-hour set of Sylk 130, Sister Gertrude Morgan, and Scuba material, featuring vocalist Lady Alma Horton, guitarist Tim Motzer, and percussionist Doc Gibbs. Nectar, 412 N 36th St, 632-2020, 9 pm–2 am, $10 adv, 21+.
FRIDAY APRIL 21
LOSTEP, HATIRAS, EVAMelbourne, Australia's lostep may be the least accessible act to play Element yet. Luke Chable and Phil K are poised to release Because We Can (Global Underground), an ambitious foray into interstellar ambience, downtempo broken beat, and psychedelic electro-house. Chable says, "We think this album works as a dream sequence, not as a DJ mix, and that is the effect we wanted to create." Wonder what the bridge-and-tunnelers will make of this weirdness. Element, 332 5th Ave N, 441-7479, 10 pm–3 am, $10 before 11 pm, $15 after, 21+.
TUESDAY APRIL 25
JEFF MILLIGANJeff Milligan (AKA Algorithm) is an über-competent ambassador for Montreal's ultra-cool minimal-techno sound. His own productions bear a frisky finesse that promises more headphone satisfaction than dance-floor dynamite, but they're great mood-building tracks that set a sweet tone during the tricky first hour of a long DJ set. Milligan's DJing skills are amply flaunted on Composure (Forcelab, 2002). Here Milligan creates over 300 loops from Forcelab's voluminous supply of glitchno grooves (courtesy of Sutekh, Kid606, Farben, Twerk, and others). Like Richie Hawtin's DE9 series, Composure unveils the minute elements writhing within the serpentine, throbbing macrocosm that is a well-mixed techno set. Baltic Room, 1207 E Pine St, 625-4444, 9 pm–2 am, $6, 21+.