The Matthew Herbert Big Band
There's Me and There's You
British producer Matthew Herbert is best when he's at his least "musical." His most interesting output comes from using unusual, unexpected objects as sound sources and then turning those sonic atoms into Rube Goldberg–machine tracks that make you move crazily. His best compositions are like eructations of industrial machinery acting roguishly. The conceptual frameworks he attaches to everything he produces further distinguishes Herbert as a rare bird among electronic musicians.
His work under the pseudonyms Radio Boy, Doctor Rockit, and Wishmountain especially reflects a wildly imaginative, dadaist approach to dance music. It's as if Herbert decided to create his own alphabet rather than deploy the same ol' 26 letters, yet he still communicates in a language people can understand, even if it initially sounds bizarre. He refuses to sample other records; instead he samples sounds from everyday objects and then manipulates them to his own ends.
There's Me and There's You follows the Matthew Herbert Big Band's 2003 debut, Goodbye Swingtime. The cover of the new disc proclaims: "We, the undersigned [18 folks who helped to create the album], believe that music can still be a political force of note and not just the soundtrack to overconsumption." Herbert's big idea here is the abuse of power (always timeless and timely) and the media's complicit role in it, conveyed in swing-jazz arrangements and rich, beautiful melodies, and recorded in Abbey Road Studios with "real" musicians. Having tough words sung sweetly and soulfully (by Eska Mtungwazi) amid brash, lavish jazz is admirable—subversive even, especially the weirder strains of it on the disc's last half. Trouble is, big-band jazz is marginalized in 2008, limiting the dissemination of Herbert's message. There's Me and There's You is a bold artistic/political statement undercut by its formal qualities.