Producer and musician Bill Laswell has built an artful, at times infamous name for himself by re-imagining the back catalogs of major artists (Bob Marley, Miles Davis) and by marrying traditional song forms with modern beats and dub grooves (like last year's Imaginary Cuba). Above all else is Laswell's trademark sound: deep, throbbing bass lines, tablas and blunt beats. It is so thoroughly overused that everything he touches inevitably turns into himself. Emerald Aether: Shape Shifting is a "reconstruction of Irish music" that features songs by Jerry O' Sullivan, Solas, Karan Casey, Matt Molloy and a few original Laswell segues. O' Sullivan's flute and bagpipe instrumental "Wendel's Wedding" is left almost entirely intact, with the exception of a little ambient pixie dust. "The Labouring Man's Daughter" by vocalist Karan Casey receives the full Laswell treatment; turntable scratches, pitch bends, hip-hop beats, and echo-drenched vocals; think Sinead O' Connor's "I Am Stretched Out On Your Grave."
Reconstructions like Matt Molloy's "The Hare in the Heather" seamlessly blend drum and bass beats with an instrumental flute solo that alluringly slides between the foreground and background, masked only by light clouds of synth and reverb. But it's one bright star in a sea of emptiness as Laswell all too often hangs shiny tinsel on other artists' fully developed songs and - presto! - calls them his own. As a producer, Laswell truly shines when he breaks a song's architecture down to brick and mortar and starts anew. It is a talent he demonstrated favorably on Imaginary Cuba, but that is lacking too often on Emerald Aether to warrant prolonged interest. - Todd Dominey
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