Clear as Crystal
America is in the midst of another British Invasion, at least in terms of the electronica movement. Almost all of the electronic-dance groups making impressive showings on the Billboard sales charts these days hail from merry old England, and even as we speak, A&R representatives desperate to cash in on the latest trends are scouring London for dance masters. As a result, U.S. acts that are producing post-techno music every bit as intriguing as that of their red-coated counterparts tend to disappear into the background.
Fortunately, that may be changing. The Crystal Method, which springs from the extremely American city of Las Vegas, Nevada, is receiving a serious push from Outpost Records, the company that issued its debut disc, Vegas, at the end of August, and Spin magazine, which is sponsoring the group's current "Electric Highway" tour in an effort to convince the reading public that its editors have their fingers on the pulse of all that is fashionable and chic. The press garnered thus far by Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland, the pair behind the Method, has had a certain Anglophilic flavor to it; nearly every article about the two compares them to the Chemical Brothers, who make their homes you-know-where. But with a little luck, they may succeed in establishing identities for themselves and for the country of their birth.
In conversation, Jordan makes it clear that he and Kirkland aren't bandwagon jumpers. "When the Prodigy went in at number one [with the album The Fat of the Land], it was like, 'What the hell is happening?'" he says, adding, "We were already planning on making Vegas the way that we did when all this electronica frenzy began to circulate."
The act's history backs up this claim. Jordan and Kirkland first joined forces during the late Eighties, working together on house cuts. Shortly thereafter, they ditched the vocals in favor of instrumentals that combined a variety of influences, including rock (they are professed aficionados of early Led Zeppelin) and soul (ditto for Stevie Wonder and Isaac Hayes). In 1994 they founded their own label--City of Angels, based in Los Angeles--and put out a couple of bona fide club classics, "Keep Hope Alive (There Is Hope mix)," which features a sample from a speech by the Reverend Jesse Jackson, and "Now Is the Time (Cloud 9 mix)." The songs sold over 5,000 copies each, making them smashes in the then-insular nightlife universe, and led to appearances on a dizzying array of compilations, including The Trip Hop Test Part One, The Trip Hop Test Part Two and Funky Desert Breaks (all available on the Moonshine imprint), as well as a collaboration with Filter on the soundtrack to the sci-fi/horror excursion Species.
A contract with Outpost followed, and Jordan notes that he and Kirkland were more than prepared to step up to the next level. "When we finally got our deal and we knew they wanted an album from us, we had about fifteen tracks on hand," Jordan recalls. "But Scott and I took a listen to the music, and it sounded too old-school for our tastes after the passage of time. The only old track that made it on to Vegas is 'Keep Hope Alive,' and even that is a new version. The rest is brand-new."
This tack is a familiar one in the electronica field. It's not uncommon for artists to decide that a song is outmoded even if it's only a few months old and has never been widely distributed outside the dance community. But the Crystal Method's decision to throw the baby out with the bathwater did not prove fatal. It's debatable whether the Vegas material is fresher than the ditties that came before it, but most of it is highly enjoyable. "Cherry Twist" and "Vapor Trail," for example, are full-bodied compositions that blend spirited break-beat loops, psychedelic synth riffs and an almost-rock-and-roll level of testosterone. These efforts bear an undeniable similarity to the creations of the aforementioned Chemicals, who frequently spun earlier Method releases at their London nightspot, the Heavenly Social Club, and shared the bill with the Nevadans during their debut concert overseas. But whereas the Brothers rely too heavily on rhythm loops that weary the eardrums after a few tracks, their American pals come up with enough interesting beats and sonics to more than fill an entire long-player. The Crystals are also willing to play with their formula, as is clear from the found vocals and actual singing that turns up on "Jaded" and "Busy Child," the lead single on MTV's heavily hyped Amp collection.
Such cuts are winning the Crystal Method acclaim in England and other far-flung locales, but at this point, Jordan has not turned his back on his Western roots. He's already assembled a list of clubs he wants to check out while he's in Denver and offers praise for the Sugar Twist Kids, a Colorado pair he once caught live in Las Vegas. "They were pretty all right, and very androgynous," he recalls. "They weren't in a band, but they put on quite a show."
Right now the Method is in high demand: The members actually had to turn down a profitable offer to remix Moby's revised "James Bond Theme" (slated to appear on the soundtrack to the next Bond opus, Tomorrow Never Knows) in order to hit the highways of America. Which they know far better than their British peers.
The Crystal Method, with Death in Vegas, Fluke and Dean Thatcher. 8 p.m. Tuesday, September 9, Ogden Theatre, 935 East Colfax Avenue, $12, 1-800-444-
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