When I first heard about Illuminati, the star-studded remix project
of the Pastels' Illumination, I was a bit on edge. I worried that
the ultra-hip cast of remixers-- including My Bloody Valentine, Stereolab,
Mouse on Mars, Tortoise's John McEntire and eleven others-- would taint
this veteran Glasgow band's delicate vocal and instrumental soundscapes
with their flashier personalities. As it turns out, these friends and
admirers have paid tribute in a sophisticated, heartfelt way.
Illuminati is the yard stick by which all future remix albums
should be measured.
Illumination showed the Pastels at their warmest and most
impressionistic, an album representing fifteen years of maturation and
popular obscurity (an "unfair kind of fame"). On Illuminati,
the remixers preserve this melancholic, naïve, and playful sensibility
while offering three kinds of interpretations: (1) glazes, which add new
textures and colors but keep the songs' basic forms intact; (2) glosses,
which isolate particular sections of the songs and build ideas around and
on top of them; and (3) galoshes, which situate vocal and/or instrumental
elements of the songs in foreign (exotic) contexts.
The album opens with "Magic Nights," a one-minute flair of dramatic
fireworks by famed, reclusive perfectionists My Bloody Valentine. (It's
really only Kevin Shields, but maybe he's used the MBV moniker in
anticipation of a new album?) This sets the stage for Kid Loco's velvety,
spacy gloss on a piano riff from "The Viaduct." Time for a bliss-out trio:
Cornelius steals the show with his loungy, sugary glaze on "Windy Hill."
Stereolab top themselves on "One Wild Moment" (a Pastels tune awaiting
release) with a jubilant, flute-and-bassoon disco romp hearkening back to
the days of The Groop Played Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music. And
Mouse on Mars develop a subdued, staccato ambience underneath the fragile
vocals of "Attic Plan" before erupting into their unmistakable,
idiosyncratic dance music.
The next eleven tracks flow from one to the next as effortlessly as the
first five. Dark, noirish remixes by Cinema and the Third Eye Foundation
play comfortably alongside lush, swirling treatments by Ian Carmichael and
Future Pilot AKA. John McEntire's mathematical Tortoise treatment of
"Remote Climbs" makes perfect sense on the same album as Make Up's soulful
cover of "Rough Riders." And Gastr del Sol's Jim O'Rourke deserves special
mention for his orchestrated galosh of "Leaving This Island."
Illuminati is governed by creativity, contrast and warmth-- three
elements lacking in most music these days, especially in the remix world.
The bounty of talent, earnestness of delivery, and careful sequencing makes
for a gorgeous album that approaches flawlessness. If you're looking for
an album to curl up to in a thermal blanket, or read a novel to, or even
one that could transform your bed into an imaginary dance floor, you'd be
hard-pressed to do better than this one.