A.R.Kane, the London duo of Alex (Ayuli) and Rudy (Tambala), helped usher in two significant musical movements in England. The 12-inch dance single “Pump Up the Volume,” a 1987 collaboration with members of Colourbox in the ad hoc group M/A/R/R/S, introduced the scratching and sampling aesthetic of American hip-hop and house music to the British mainstream, where it remains an integral part of rave culture and its outgrowths. Then, with the lulling noisescapes of the Up Home! EP and Sixty Nine, the duo (which dubbed its music “dreampop”) exerted a profound sonic influence on the legion of trippy shoegazer guitar bands that would emerge a few years later in the UK.
Up Home! and Sixty Nine make a virtue of vagueness, with voices like murmuring ghosts, vapor-trail guitars and echo-laden rhythms that suggest a dub reggae remix more than any kind of rock production. The former disc’s “Up,” a shimmering, six-minute plunge into weightlessness, is a virtual sonic blueprint for Lush and Slowdive.
A.R.Kane certainly lived up to its name, which is not just a cute pun but an accurate summation of everything about the enigmatic duo. The only musical influence they cop to is Miles Davis, but you can be sure they’re not referring to any of his famous quintets: A.R.Kane harks back to the deep atmospherics and funk noise of Davis’ mid- to-late-’70s work. Co-produced with Ray Shulman, Sixty Nine is, as one might surmise, mostly concerned with sensuality, but an enervated sensuality — the grooves here are submerged, the singing like some strange male siren calling from a cave. The sense of desperate menace hidden amid calm recalls another singular work, Robert Wyatt’s Rock Bottom.
A.R.Kane branched into pop on the double-album “i”, employing a variety of dance rhythms, female vocalists and more overt melodic hooks, but the music retains its otherworldliness. “Snow Joke” quotes Philly soul, “In a Circle” has the austere beauty of chamber music, “Crack Up” rides a giddy ska beat with amusing off- kilter piano and “Love From Outer Space” is a brooding slice of dance soul. As the disc progresses, the mood hardens, climaxing with the biting guitar opus “Super Vixens,” which updates the murderous sentiments of “Hey Joe” and “Down by the River”: “…killing her was the best thing I ever did.” Mixing 16 proper songs with ten sound snippets, “i” runs a wider gamut of genres than the debut. As the record progresses, the music turns harsher, then downright hostile, although the vocals remain implacable and drained of personality.
Five “i” songs, including “Miles Apart,” appear in new versions (“Crack Up” gets two makeovers) on rem”i”xes, an EP which further demonstrates the band’s enjoyable willfulness: remixes are generally intended to pep up the originals for better dance-floor consumption, but most of the songs are more restive here than they were on “i”. (Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins did half of the knob-twiddling; the band did the rest.) Unfortunately, a few numbers sound more weak-kneed than stripped-down, and their removal from the album’s context doesn’t help.
Americana is a solid 15-song compilation that draws from the two albums and early 12-inch releases. With its piano-and-saxophone sentimentality and “holding on for love” lyric, the one new track, “Water,” serves as a bridge to the more conventional pop of New Clear Child. Although the duo’s 1994 album retains some of the eccentric allure of the early work, the vocals are now clearly up front in the mix, and the noisy intrusions have been muted, thus depriving A.R.Kane of whatever originality it had left.
Sufi is Tambala’s trip-hop venture with his sister, Margaret Alice Tambala. Her light, jazzy coo of a voice is the most appealing aspect of Life’s Rising, a collection of weakly written pop songs (“Lostaday,” “Lover,” “Into the Blue”) turned into sonically uninspired ambient soul doodles.