Conceptually, the TribunL series from Inflatabl Labl is a knockout: Take three electronic producers and make them create music in a style completely foreign to them. This time around, house producer Akufen (Marc LeClaire), jack-of-all-trades Freeform (Simon Pyke), and chopped-up electro producer (and Inflatabl Labl owner) the Rip-Off Artist (Matt Haines) take on the blues. And though these songs are often brilliant technical achievements, the concept is still the highlight, leaving the album as more of an exercise than a triumph.
Most samples here are of the note or chord variety — many so short that discerning the source material is an unlikely proposition — forming a diverse collage of old- and new-school blues, some tending toward folk, some saturated in rock. The omnipresent glitch of patchwork sounds often provides auto-percussion, which is an interesting, organic method of replacing the knee slapping or guitar thumping of traditional blues rhythms.
The most successful tracks balance the electronics with blues style, such as Akufen’s whiskey-fueled saunter on “The World Wanna Know” and “I Won’t Buy You.” But where Akufen’s four tracks seem to best capture the blues’ spirit, the others struggle to find the equilibrium. The Rip-Off Artist’s “What Kind of Blue” stitches together a twelve-bar tune with mathematical precision for a wonderful feat, but it sounds (obviously) forced, forfeiting the blues’ loose and easy vibe. At worst, some tracks are basically electronic, beat-driven tunes that are bullied into using blues samples, handicapping whatever notion was intended by the tune.
Maybe the blues just weren’t meant to be pieced together like this. The knock on electronic music is that it is too cold and mechanized to stir emotion, and while that argument fails on so many levels, it might be correct in this case. Though blues music asserts a stark simplicity on a sonic level, the naked crooning and mournful guitars of artists like Robert Johnson and Lightnin’ Hopkins imbued the genre with an emotional core that to this day, lies unparalleled. Blu TribunL, while remaining true to the sounds of the blues, emasculates its soul, leaving only an interesting concept in its wake.