ADR Chunky Monkey
New York's Aaron David Ross used to be easier to pin down. He first emerged as half of Gatekeeper, a duo that originally melded '80s horror soundtracks with pulsing dancefloor muscle. In 2011, he released his first solo LP, Solitary Pursuits, which came across as a languid, stargazing adjunct to Gatekeeper. Somewhere around the time he joined hypothetical boy band HD Boyz, however, Ross's retro-futurism took a turn for the bizarre. This might have something to do with his shift from 1980s motifs to 1990s ones. Gatekeeper's acid-focused Exo, released last year, filtered industrial rave and Ron Fricke film soundtracks through immersive modern sound design, resulting in an intense, if gaudy, update of the group's signature combination. Chunky Monkey, then, is that record's Solitary Pursuits, its more low-key complement.
In spite of their various reference points, most of Ross's projects have been fairly unique, albeit in an uncannily familiar way. Chunky Monkey, on the other hand, is the closest he has come to historical facsimile. The record takes on a variety of bygone genres, most of them breakbeat led, and pairs them with an array of garish, largely unfashionable elements. "Slush Fund" melds scatting and wailing woodwinds, while "Stray Dog Strut" does a kind of cod-digi-reggae laced with a perky lead and an inexplicable variety of elements, ranging from banjos to what sounds like a rooster. There's more scatting on the pseudo-jungle throwback "Big Daddy," but its glistening atmospherics are clearly of our time. The bleepy melody on the trip-hop-ish "What It Takes" is also somewhat modern, but its coy, exaggeratedly dusky vocals beg one to wonder where he found such a singer.
The problem with Chunky Monkey is not that it's a throwback—practically every contemporary record contains a glance backwards. It's more that its examination of lounge culture is more arch than affecting. Although plenty of similar examinations will surely follow, perhaps with better success, this preset-laden side of 1990s electronic music simply lacks the immediate leverage of Solitary Pursuits' analog (or at least analog-esque) library music. As largely instrumental, home-listening music, it quickly becomes tiresome. A better recent interpretation can be found in Plvs Vltra's Parthenon, which combined this kitschy excess with bubblegum pop, providing hooks beyond simple audio memories.
Chunky Monkey conjures music which might never have existed previously, but which nonetheless sounds familiar, and not in a good way. If it's taken as Ghost Box and UK hauntology re-imagined for the children of big beat and '90s MTV, perhaps it can be viewed as a commendable effort. Ross is as committed a conceptualist as his peer James Ferraro, and the record is at least cohesively goofy, even down to its cheeky, Plastikman-esque logo. It's just a pity that the actual music is so superfluous—though this is probably the point.
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