By the look of things lately, the identity dilemma facing Warp’s progeny, Lex Records, just might be an inherited defect. The indefatigable release schedule of this longtime juggernaut has been marred by a dearth of new sounds. Other than the tried-and-true stable of acts that have set the bar for electronica and made this label’s name — Autechre, Squarepusher, Boards of Canada — the only significant signing Warp has unveiled in recent years has been Prefuse 73. We haven’t even received anything serious and new from the flagship miscreant, Aphex Twin, since 1997’s Windowlicker. Surely a collection of remixes, albeit appreciated, is nothing to wet the trousers over, and the double-disc Drukqs was simply a pisstake of pieced-together scraps.
The latest development Warp attempted was the much-vaunted promise of avant-garde hip-hop. This seemingly diffused with the inability of Antipop Consortium to blow our minds for any duration longer than two minutes and the groups dissolution. Recently Warp’s releases have begun to deviate from the computer-minded template they have laid down, issuing albums from !!! and Broadcast.
Billed as a different direction for Warp are newcomers Home Video, a group whose approach is more electronic-minded pop than complex beat-wizardry; the band boasts none of those much-maligned laptops in its live set up. But instead of forging new territory, these two songs find the label stalled at an impasse.
Both tracks use recycled New Order beats scripted with some echo-y Thom Yorke-esque crooning. They ride a steady groove that sizzles with promise, but with a lack of melodic development and stagnant dynamics, the record never quite catches flame. This is the sort of thing less-established labels are busy jumping all over, wetting themselves with the chance to soundtrack an emotional car commercial or some teenage (over)drama like The OC. But this is Warp Records, the titan among dependable electronica. They have no business releasing what, to these ears, rings like something of a death knell, a ten-inch slab of wax hurled from a bloating carcass.
The most disappointing part of That You Might is that with the label’s reputation, international distribution and sleek manufacturing, they could easily sign any producer in the game right now. But they choose to pursue something that follows a well-treaded path. The IDM tag seems to be played out, but quite a few directions are left to follow. Warp’s lagging in new sound innovation might be easily tied to their reluctance to sign anyone flirting or skirting around a house beat, with some of the most insane and acclaimed jams right now coming from Matthew Dear, Akufen, Ricardo Villalobos — all practitioners of the micro-house template forged by Matthew Herbert, among others.
All this nay-saying could be premature. Two Lone Swordsmen recently demonstrated that their tricks are worthy of attention, and if Jamie Lidell follows in the same demented R&B vein of his Super_Collider project, his long-awaited second LP could once again blow the doors open for this powerhouse. Until it happens though, recent mediocrity will have electronic fans doubting the relevance of their most trusted connoisseur.