Bows Cassidy

Luke Sutherland is one of the few renaissance men in music today, and as befits the renaissance man, he's a man of contradictions. A black man bearing a striking resemblance to Malcolm X, albeit with dreads, Sutherland is also a Scot, and his engagement with Scottish culture and encounters with racism are a big part of what fires his music. Sutherland already had a reputation for unpredictable blending of sounds and genres with Long Fin Killie, a group that found unlikely intersections between Gaelic folk and American beatz through the mid-'90s. With Bows' debut Blush, Sutherland crafted a remarkably beautiful album that articulated a way of reconciling the precise mayhem of drum & bass with the sort of unapologetic loveliness-for-the-sake-of-loveliness you'd expect from Air. It's not so simple this time, although the songs themselves are simpler. Cassidy's arrangements opt for a more austere beauty with little of its predecessor's lushness. The beats are more fleeting and more open-ended; the songs are less clearly defined, and an expanded role goes to Danish singer Signe Hoirup Wille-Jorgenson, who has become to Sutherland what Martine used to be to Tricky - a moody kind of female alter ego. Her voice matches Sutherland's wearied edginess, and she gives it depth. With the Pink Puppet EP, Sutherland - an award-winning novelist whose second novel Sweetmeat is on the way by year's end - tries to inject some life into the justly maligned spoken word genre. The best way to do that is to ignore the usual rules of spoken word recordings, which usually slavishly foreground the text, set off by a backdrop of jazz, some acid jazz knockoff or some other passably funky variant that will one way or another evoke the beat poets. Sutherland recruits abstract beat producers Chilly Gonzales and Rob Swift to layer blurry backdrops onto fragments of "Pink Puppet." Sutherland's voice is alternately buried in the mix, playfully bouncing around inside the beats and altered beyond recognition or intelligibility, which seems a lot closer to William S. Burroughs' notion of the cut-up than most spoken word artists have had the nerve or the wit to come. (Too Pure)