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Death in Vegas

The Contino Sessions

By Daniel J. Katz

Staff Writer

For the most part, electronic music is divided into two groups: music where there’s a lot to listen to, and fast-paced dance music where there’s very little to listen to. DJ Richard Fearless and Tim Holmes, aka Death In Vegas, have just released an album that doesn’t really fit into either group; it’s not very active, it’s not very dynamic, and in fact, it doesn’t even sound particularly electronic. The Contino Sessions, which takes its name from the studio where most of the mixing was done, is an eclectic composition of blues, trip-hop, rock, and other musical mentalities that impresses at first, but simply doesn’t hold up as well as it should over repeated listenings.

Most of the songs on The Contino Sessions seem to be based on neat initial concepts, some of which are carried out remarkably well. The current single, “Aisha,” features an infectious guitar groove, and a dark foreboding voice giving cryptic twisted warnings like, “I keep a portrait on the wall / he’s a serial killer / I thought he wouldn’t escape / Aisha, he got out ... ” Without checking the liner notes, you would have no idea that the guest murderer is none other than Iggy Pop. Other guests on the album include Jim Reid of Jesus and Mary Chain, whose throaty voice enhances the eerie “Broken Little Sister,” and Bobby Gillespie from Primal Scream, who found time to appear on the new Chemical Brothers album and still write and sing the inane lyrics to “Soul Auctioneer.” (Yes, that is a cool name. Unfortunately, the name is the highlight of the song.)

“Dirge” provides another high point on the CD, opening with a jangly lone guitar and calm female voice, both of which continue through the track only to be swallowed up and buried by pounding drums, driving bass, and screeching synthesizers. Silence and sounds of the wind are utilized a lot on the album, giving much of the music a feeling of isolation. This effect is best achieved near the beginning of the third track, where the wind itself seems to be bent and remixed into electronic whirrs until it finally vanishes, ushering in “Death Threat,” another of the better songs on the album. The problem with these songs is that, although they have an interesting sound at first, nothing really happens as they progress, so once you know the routine, the spark is gone.

Other tracks just seem altogether misconceived. The bluesy “Aladdin’s Story” is surprisingly upbeat in tone for a Death In Vegas song, but its guitar-saxophone call and answer gets old and repetitive long before the London Community Gospel Choir arrives to sing, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” The closing track, “Neptune City,” is rather anticlimactic; it has a restrained, gradually building feel to it that makes it sound like it should be followed by something big. Instead, everything simply ends. And it ends pretty quickly; while the album’s nine tracks take up almost fifty minutes of music, their long repetitive nature and lack of variety makes the CD seem much longer than it actually is.

Death In Vegas try some really neat things on The Contino Sessions, as they did on their debut album, Dead Elvis. Unfortunately, on this album, their efforts aren’t consistent enough to produce an album that I can wholeheartedly recommend. While songs like “Dirge” and “Aisha” are well worth hearing, this disc is likely to see a lot more shelf time than stereo time. If you manage to find a friend who actually has The Contino Sessions, borrow it before you buy it.