DJ Spooky vs. Spectre – “Stereo Specific Polymerization Simon Says Threshold” 10″ (1998)

I made a commitment to cut back on my record purchases a few weeks ago. I figured with Airwaves right around the corner I’d be bringing home a huge haul of vinyl, and my shelves are already almost full so I need to conserve some space. Then I saw that Hi-Voltage Records in Tacoma was having a 20% off all used records sale over the Labor Day weekend, and my commitment came up lacking. Because there were used vinyl gems down there that needed to come home with me.

One of the items that caught my eye was a 10″ inside a ziplock pouch with a sort of Cobra Commander meets the ace of spades logo on it, which seemed like a necessary purchase based solely on appearance. It turned out to be a four song “battle” record, featuring two tracks each by DJ Spooky and Spectre.

Somehow I’d managed to make it to 2016 without ever having heard of DJ Spooky, aka That Subliminal Kid, aka Paul D. Miller, a dude who seems to have been an “artist in residence” in just about every corner of the globe recently, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Some pretty serious swing. And since this was the first time I heard his music I was able to go into it cold, and man it is a serious trip. Jungle beats, heavily modulated vocalizations, some scratching… I’ve subsequently seen this genre described as “illbient,” and I have to say that actually makes some sense. “Stereo Specific Polymerization Simon Says Threshold” is definitely ill with it’s sort of demented video game vibe, while “Turntables Laughing at the Sky” brings a bit more turntablism to the record along with some sounds that feel like an upright bass being played underwater.

Specter’s two tracks are both a bit more low key, leaning more toward the ambient part of the genre. “Trash ‘N Ready” gives us some more African style percussions along with a didgeridoo sound that flows through it like water.

And now the confession. The first time I listened to this, I did so at 33 1/3 rpm.

It’s supposed to be played at 45 rpm. (♠)

So back onto the turntable it went. The faster speed eliminated the “underwater” sound I got from the initial play, and sort of took some of the jungle out of the beats. This may be a ridiculous thing to say, but playing this record at the proper speed improved the Spectre songs way more than it did for those by DJ Spooky – Spooky’s tracks played pretty well even at the slower revolutions while Spectre’s beats came together much better and felt like something you could spin at a club.

(♠) Seriously, people, you need to give us an indication of the speed if for any reason it’s something unusual. Maybe it’s just me… but if it’s a 12″ or a 10″, I assume 33 1/3 rpm, and if it’s a 7″ I assume 45 rpm. Is it really that difficult to tell the listener if the speed is something they might not normally expect?

Spectre – “Covert Dub” (1996)

Spectre was a project of Nick Raphael (aka Manasseh) in the mid 1990s. Is this the same Nick Raphael who is currently the president of Capitol Records in the UK? I can’t find any sources that definitively assert so, but given all the circumstantial evidence (age, ties to BMG…) they certainly appear to be the same person. Interesting.

I snagged Covert Dub while flipping through the new arrivals at Silver Platters yesterday. It said “dub” right on the cover, and for three bucks it was pretty much a no brainer. At six songs its more like an EP than an album, but that didn’t deter me. One cool thing about the length, however, is that since they cut it to play at 33 1/3 most of the music is on the outer 2/3 of the record, leaving a huge runout section – and given that sound quality deteriorates the closer you get to the center of a record, this ensures the highest possible clarity.

Covert Dub certainly has some reggae influence, but to my ears its much more of an electronic album than traditional dub (I’ll be filing it on my shelves under Electronic, not under Reggae/Dub). The three versions of the song “Covert Dub” that comprise side A have much more recognizable reggae sounds than those on the flip side, but it still feels a bit fleeting. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that’s a criticism, because it’s not – this is a nice chill electronica record that I played twice straight through and that I can guarantee will get more spins.

My favorite cut is “Covert Dub (Experiments That Identify Change)” that closes out side A. I like some vocal sampling in my electronica, and this is the one spot on the record that scratches that itch for me. If you can get your hands on a copy, check it out.