Herbert - Herbert Complete - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Herbert - Herbert Complete

by Daryl Worthington Rating:6 Release Date:

Matthew Herbert has all the hallmarks of a cult figure; a diverse, eccentric body of work that although hovering around the mainstream in terms of the genres and styles it deals with, has a singular style and execution all its own. The diversity of his output gives the impression of Herbert as an eccentric musical polymath. Starting out with a blend of minimalistic house compositions, Herbert is now head of the newly reformed Radiophonic Workshop, he has created an album made from the sounds of the human body, composed 'big band' jazzy pop songs, and continued his exploration of the limits of electronic music styles. 'Herbert Complete' is exactly as its' title suggests, an exhaustive collection of 13 albums or 13 hours of music, including complete studio albums, rarities, outtakes and remixes, that manages to give examples of the majority of Herbert's various explorations.

Having such an extensive collection of an artist's music in one place allows the listener to contextualise their catalogue. With this compilation it is possible to see certain paths and directions being developed, progression being made alongside continuities revealing various idiosyncrasies in Herberts composition and production. The two 'Early Herbert' albums have a slightly scatterbrain fill to them. Although largely made up of efficient minimalist dance music they throw up the occasional curve ball. 'Wake Up' for example has soft Rhodes piano and warm acoustic bass played over a loungey groove accompanied by the smooth, sultry vocals of Dani Siciliano. The electronic beeps and bleeps are still present, alongside a manipulated and looped snare roll, but it sounds completely detached from the more mechanical electronics elsewhere on the album, serving as a precursor to the kinds of lush pop sounds explored later on albums such as 'Scale'.

One noticeable conclusion when listening through to the discs chronologically (which with such an extensive collection seems the most sensible way to digest it) is that Herberts music becomes warmer, richer and more varied in texture, built on an expanding palette of acoustic, electronic and found sounds. 'Movers and Shakers' from 'Scale' has bombastic strings and brass that makes it sound like something from a Danny Elfman soundtrack, whereas 'You Said it All' on 'Bodily Functions' has a sweet chorus of overlapping boy/girl vocals that seems almost the complete antithesis of Herbert's earlier, colder works. There is however a perverse logic to this dichotomy. 'Something Isn't Right' (also from 'Scale') has epic, cinematic strings, however this is underpinned by a looping drum machine beat. Even songs that seem to have the electronics completely removed feature structures and forms that seem to fit with the minimalistic house of his early albums. Similarly, the 'Bodily Functions' and 'Around the House' albums are built on sampling of the human body and household objects respectively. Again, the experimental approach fits into the framework of house music and techno, the avant garde elements never dragging the songs away from a danceable, listenable core.

Herbert moves through ideas, genres and styles with an academic precision and intensity, at times seeming to incorporate a dry humour alongside his compositional virtuosity. 'Got to be Movin' sounds like the sort of dance/pop cross over that used to crop up on Top of the Pops in the nineties- dancey beats alongside a slightly cheesey vocal loop of 'dancefloor'. Far from being an ironic pastiche though it comes across as a subtle, playful homage. However this approach highlights a barrier to Herbert's music. Sometimes it can seem a little too academic, with little substance beyond a beard stroking appreciation of his diversity.

The main strength of 'Herbert Complete' is that it highlights how distinct each of the albums included are, each seeming like a clear, concise exploration of a certain idea or style. As good as many of the individual albums are, this is a review of the whole compilation and the problem comes with the absorption of such an exhaustive undertaking. For someone unfamiliar with Herberts work, this collection is perhaps daunting and overwhelming as a starting point. On the other hand, anyone already familiar with his work, is likely to already own at least some of the albums included here, giving it little value beyond the rarities, B-sides and outtakes collections.

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