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Bitwise Operators (Malvado Records)

Wednesday, Dec 27 2000
After a short, ambient opening track, Otaku's debut album moves quickly into "Barbarian Whores," a trip hop cut that sounds like it's Straight Outta Bristol. Before you panic, rest assured that this local duo is not another rip-off of English trip hop standard-bearers Massive Attack and Portishead. Instead, with Bitwise Operators, Otaku spans the electronica spectrum, crisscrossing between dub reggae, ambient techno, and even drum 'n' bass.

In the album's liner notes, Otaku (aka Colonel 32 and NaN) lists a wealth of inspirations, from seminal dub producer Lee Perry and ambient techno innovators Autechre to cut-and-paste DJ collective Coldcut and jazz great Pharoah Sanders. The duo, which formed in early 1998 for a friend's "space artifacts" exhibition, has an uncanny ability to tap into its diverse body of influences while still maintaining an overall cohesiveness.

The first portion of Bitwise Operators concentrates on upbeat sampled funk with synthesized flourishes. "Life in Plastic" creates a great groove using a deep, driving bass line, church bells, and old-school scratching, while "The Beat" skitters between a sci-fi soundtrack and Parliament-Funkadelic samples.

The second half of the record focuses on more languid rhythms. "Dub Bass Two," which was featured on MTV's Road Rules this summer, rumbles along with water chimes, keyboard ripples, and reverberating drumbeats; "The Dangling Conversation in Dub" begins with maniacal laughter and cat cries worthy of a haunted house, then transitions into swirling telephone tones and sinister percussive taps. The album's only misfire occurs during "Dub Bass One," where the overuse of screaming vocal samples breaks the mood of sinuous echo and reverb.

Bitwise Operators soon shifts gears again with "Other Side of the Sun," a strong downtempo cut with conga beats laid over synthesized flute and whirring sound samples. Finally, the album closes with "Overture to 2313," a cut that moves from a dissonant collage of brass, jet plane flyovers, and rhythmic chimes to a fast and busy drum 'n' bass beat.

Otaku takes its name from the Japanese slang for "obsessed collector." While some people use it as an insult, this local duo wields its moniker with pride, assembling familiar styles and rhythms into a varied sound.

About The Author

Vanessa Bee


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