Rhythm & Sound – Roll Off (1998)
Monumental moves from Mark & Moritz. I came late to all of Ernestus and von Oswald’s music and Rhythm & Sound was the last of their projects to really hit me. Against the inside-outness of Basic Channel and the stark, brutal drive of Maurizio, R&S, superficially at least, sounded so straight. Where all their aliases built upon or at least hinted at the duo’s love of roots and dub reggae, R&S seemed like little more than mere homage.
Then I got it, and ‘Roll Off’, probably the most unconventional track, was the one that really pulled me in. The single has two versions, the first, ‘Roll Off/B’ features a steady techno pulse, but it’s the stripped ‘Roll Of/S’ that truly astounds. That thing that someone said about the Ramones being an experiment in seeing how much you could take away and still have rock ‘n’ roll? Well, ‘Roll Off/S’ is like the dub equivalent. There is a (slow) groove buried in there somewhere, but it’s so abstracted and unpredictable. Every kick drum drops like a bomb and every offbeat skank shoots like a flare or firework flying off at a different angle, sometimes colliding with the next hit on the way down. Where most post-roots era dub satisfies itself by piling on the bass pressure and swathes of echo/delay, ‘Roll Off /S’ gets to the heart of the form as meditative aural landscape and retains the alchemical spirit of the Jamaican originators and their misuse/abuse of both raw song material and technology.
There isn’t a great deal of ‘backstory’ with this one, which I first heard on the Rhythm & Sound CD collection. It stunned me on an iPod, pushed to the limit to drown out London tube noise, but I knew immediately that it had to be heard on vinyl, where the cracks and spaces would somehow open up and reveal even more. Also, by featuring only the ‘/s’ version, the CD/digital album slightly spoils the full effect of the journey from pretty out there to gone that you get when playing both sides of the 12″. Fortunately, most of the Basic Channel-related catalogue remains in print so if you don’t have it but do have a record player, go treat yourself, play loud and get inside it.