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Minotaur Shock - Amateur Dramatics

  by Anthony Dhanendran

published: 9 / 10 / 2008

Minotaur Shock - Amateur Dramatics
Label: 4AD
Format: CD


Complex but classy folktronica on fourth album from Minotaur Shock, the project of Bristol-based musician David Edwards, who for its digital version has prepared his own pricing scheme of how much he thinks each track is worth

In the insular Bristol music scene of the late 1990's and early 2000's, everyone tended to know everyone else. The same names kept cropping up again and again, alongside adjectives such as 'legendary', 'incredible' and 'cult' (yes, it is an adjective). One of those names was that of David Edwards, who records under the name Minotaur Shock. His first album, 2001's 'Chiff-Chaffs and Willow Warblers', in parts, lived up to the adjectives. It was a flawed but undeniably impressive collection of folky electronica (the 'folktronica' fad not yet having begun then, there was nothing to call it at the time) on a grand scale. Minotaur Shock's new album, 'Amateur Dramatics', continues the musical odyssey Edwards has been on since that first release, something he's been doing on the two albums in between, 2003's 'Rinse' and 2005's 'Maritime'. In addition to moving the music along he's also come up with a new distribution method, and one that's possibly unique: pricing the tracks based on how much he thinks they're each worth. The album is – for now – only being released online, and while it's possible to pay the very reasonable sum of £6.41 for the lot, you can also pick and mix a tracklisting based on the prices he's set for each track. Those prices are based on such whimsical factors as 'computer crash rating', 'technical difficulty' and 'extra musicians' (the more people worked on it, the more it costs). The music is much less relaxed than it used to be. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though: 'Chiff-Chaffs' was charming, but it was in places a bit too laid-back for its own good. That sonic trajectory Edwards has been on, though, has taken him from the ambient end of electronic music right to the other – structurally, a few of the tracks on 'Amateur Dramatics' wouldn't sound out of place in city-centre house clubs. The beats are bigger, the synths are poppier and the rhythms are faster. There's something of a Hot Chip vibe to some of the tracks, while at the beginning 'Accelerated Footage' has a four-to-the-floor that recalls nothing so much as the (early, good) Human League. It becomes something quite other, though: it soon picks up airs of earlier Minotaur Shock songs, with its woodwind break in the middle. As with previous MS records, there aren't many vocals, and what there are are airy and fairy, notably on 'This Plane Is Going To Fall', which was the only track not written by Edwards (it was co-written with vocalist Annalynne Williams). There are plenty of real instruments in the mix, too, taking in most of the orchestra pit, from brass to strings to percussion (in the form of glockenspiels), so the feelings of digital isolation don't last long – every time you think you're listening to a robotic dance track a clarinet or something similarly woody will cut in. Conversely, the brass instruments at the beginning of 'Jason Forrest' give way to a dark, dubstep-influenced electro tune after a few seconds. It's in that disjunct between the organic and the metallic, the shiny and the earthy, the human and the machine, that this complex album's heart lies. It doesn't always work: 'BATS' is a melange of more dubstep, ambient, jazz and more, and it's too smashed-together to work entirely, for instance. Final track 'Beekeeper' exemplifies the contradiction – it begins slowly and builds into an incredible, manic second half whose time signature shifts and slides underneath the melody just like the angry swarm it brings to mind. Listening to it, you feel like you should be getting up and dancing, but try to do so and you'll end up in a heap on the floor. The track-by-track pricing gives the album a neat structure, and it allows listeners to pick up the tracks they like. If you have to pick one or two tracks, our choices would be 'Jason Forrest' and 'My Burr', or possibly Beekeeper which won't be to everyone's taste. But it's worth picking up the whole thing, not least because it's excellent value by comparison with current CD prices. While at first it appears cold and even a little soulless, 'Amateur Dramatics' is a warm album that rewards repeated listening. Shell out, and get to know it a little – if nothing else, it provides a good soundtrack to those winter nights drawing in. All the tracks, along with entertainingly wry explanations for each pricing (down to the category level), are available at www.minotaurshock.com.

Track Listing:-
1 Zookeeper
2 AmDram
3 This Plane Is Going To Fall
4 Accelerated Footage
5 Jason Forrest
6 Two Magpies
7 My Burr
9 Snapdragon
10 Buzzards
11 Beekeeper

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