Difficult second album time for Dan Berridge's lushly cinematic sampladelia.
Chris Jones 2002-11-20
Thank the Lord for chronic fatigue syndrome. For were it not for Dan Berridge's bout with this illness we wouldnt have ever been lucky enough to receive the gift of his first marvellous album Compassion, recorded at his parents house while recovering from the aforementioned malady. Its intriguing patchwork of samples and strings has slowly but surely won over an audience old enough to spot the source material, and young enough not to feel too precious about the magpie tendencies. Two years on Dan and new accomplice, singer Richard Palmer bring us MK2 of the Project's development.
This album is a different beast. Whereas Compassion had you constantly surprised by the DJ Shadow-style juxtaposition of disparate genres (Rachmaninov meets Spirit, Eno vs the Mahavishnu Orchestra etc.) The Vessel is composed of actual songs and features real instruments accompanying Palmer's bizarrely treated vocals. It's less an exquisite corpse and more of a complete body of work.
In fact, The Vessel has such a homogenous sound that highlights are harder to find. Samples tend to be more ambient than integral here. Scratchy string tracks and floating electronica underneath the almost-female vocals can't help but remind one of the heydays of Bristolian trip hop (though, in fairness, Berridge is from Bristol). "Sufi" could be a sweeter version of Portishead. However while lyrics often fall short of anything memorable, Berridge's exemplary production always draws the heart back in.
The use of Paulette Browns' imploring gospel on "Darkling" is certainly tear-inducing and there's no denying the aching loveliness of "Angel Heart"'s chord sequence. Yet too often the mind drifts away from the material. It's too nebulous, too formulaic in its loveliness. Even the band's own website make use of fluffy terms such as 'a diverse collection of moody filmic washes'. Such vagaries are too often the curse of modern chill-out music.
So it's a step sideways for Dan and his crew. There's no denying the sense of time-biding here. He even reworks "For The One" from Compassion AGAIN, and fails to make any improvement. But hope isn't banished entirely. The final track, "Manifesto" easily matches and surpasses previous work. It's a simple return to the mix 'n' match, jazzy sampling Berridge is so good at, and its final clipped female voice could possibly be the most chilling thing you'll hear all year. More please...