The office hottie is coming over for dinner on Friday night and you’ve chosen the most extravagant recipe you could find, eager to inspire romance and impress your date. Though she arrives at 7 that evening, you don’t start preparing dinner until 6:30 so she can catch you whisking the créme fraîche and searing the foie gras in hopes that your date equates prowess in the kitchen with prowess in other rooms. When the kitchen kung fu is finished, one of you recites a not-so-witty toast at which you both laugh nervously, and then you both take bites of the exorbitant feast. You manage to choke it down and smile, but as your date immediately excuses herself for the bathroom, you wish that you’d just grilled a couple chicken thighs (or tofu cubes, for the vegetarians) with a soy-lime sauce and left it at that.
Hint’s Portakabin Fever is the soy-lime chicken of the musical realm. It’s got loads of flavor, satisfies your hunger, but isn’t over the top and uses some pretty simple ingredients. Known to some as Jonathan James, he recorded the album with only a sampler and his abilities on guitar, bass and keyboards. This sparse set up leads to an album that almost seems too simple to work — but it sure does.
The recipe is old hat to the Iron Chefs of Sampler Stadium: one part shuffling drum beat, one part obscure but catchy sample, two parts random sonic effect or live instrumentation, and Voila! — a track is served. But Hint knows exactly how long to simmer these dishes without overcooking them. The ethereal reverberations of “Plucker” are suddenly graced with the spice of steel drums while the cinematic “Re: Percussion” receives a dash of horns at the midway point to keep you interested.
The beats aren’t terribly complex, nor are the samples, and there are rarely more than two other instruments per song. However, knowing how to put it all together is another matter. The Spanish guitar of “The Look Up” changes very little throughout, but it’s a well-chosen sample and it carries the tune. One would expect to grow tired of the plaintive piano sprinkled throughout “Words to that Effect,” but even after six minutes, it ends too suddenly. And the only song that uses all the buttons on the sampler, the airy “Quite Spectacular,” is, well…oh, forget it, I won’t insult you with that one.
Portakabin Fever‘s simplicity is its greatest asset on an album level, but in a way, it’s a weakness on a track-by-track basis. There isn’t really one song that towers over the rest, but when it’s this good, who cares? So when you’ve got the time, listen to it while you mix up a stiff batch of mojitos on a hot summer day. Feed the foie gras to the neighbor’s cat, get drunk as hell, and prepare yourself for some serious head-nodding.