Mike & Rich - Expert Knob Twiddlers - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Mike & Rich - Expert Knob Twiddlers

by Joseph Majsterski Rating:8 Release Date:2016-09-02

Richard D. James and Mike Paradinas are two of the foundational artists in the IDM world. Both got their starts in the early 1990s, and both have been going strong for decades, although James has been a bit inconsistent with his output. Way back in 1994, when both were just getting started, they collaborated on a handful of tracks in James' London flat and released it as Expert Knob Twiddlers. James had worked with a few other electronic musicians, but none were as fruitful as his efforts with Paradinas. The two have very compatible styles, both of which shine through in this set: a sort of freewheeling, half-drunk spirit of experimentation.

The album was originally released in 1996, but is back twenty years later with a remastered and reordered tracklist, and seven bonus tracks, two of which are alternative mixes of existing songs, and five of which were never previously released. All-in-all, it's an impressive set, especially considering the relatively primitive equipment of the time, with a good amount of variation that manages to highlight both artists equally.

The first track, 'Mr. Frosty', is a solid introduction, with a goofy interplay between bass and melody, and lots of basic percussion. The track also have a few breaks with synth strings sailing through the mix. The followup, 'Reg', is noticeably different, with something of a Fatboy Slim sound: little guitar stabs, big beats, repetitive vocal samples, and even whistling. 'Jelly Fish' is similar, with its stair-stepping lead; it transitions into more of a claustrophobic, bass-driven song as it progresses, but a Moogish synthline lightens things up. It's one of two songs with a new mix on this release, but 'Jelly Fish (Mix 2)' really does just sound like they twiddled a few knobs, increasing some sounds in the mix and bringing others down, with nothing truly groundbreaking to be heard.

'Eggy Toast' has something of a jazzy, lounge feel mixed with an early 70s sci-fi melody. 'Vodka', which gets its name from the booze that both were drunk from while recording the song, is perhaps the most straightforward song, demonstrating the mainline styles (at the time) of both μ–Ziq and Aphex Twin. It's the second track with an alternate version, and it's the same thing as before, with a pieces moved around but nothing too exciting, although both versions are plenty good.

'Winner Takes All' goes off in a different direction, much more playful, with a fun percussive melody and beats that make the head involuntarily bob. The orchestral stabs that slowly fill in the blanks towards the end are utterly irresistible. 'The Sound of the Beady Eyes' is downright funky, with some great organ licks mixed in with the usual instrumentation and string bits both men favored at the time. And 'Giant Deflating Football' has an almost mournful, downtempo effect that does sound a bit like something is deflating.

Of the new tracks, the absolute stand-out is 'Waltz'. It is absolutely transcendent, with a mesmerizing stack of synth layers creating the melody and some gorgeously spacey effects mixed in. I truly wish the boys had explored this sound a bit more, as it's just a fascinating listen. 'Brivert & Muonds' gets its percussion and bass from songs like 'Alberto Balsalm' off I Care Because You Do and 'London' from Lunatic Harness: massive, distorted things that push through your head like a dump truck.

Everything else in the set, both old and new, is solid without being mind-blowing. The original Expert Knob Twiddlers was already pretty good, and the new tracks are, outside of the aforementioned 'Waltz', of a piece in terms of quality and style. So if you liked the original, or liked any of the early-to-mid-90s albums by either of these guys, you absolutely can't go wrong picking up this new version of the release.

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