Steve Bug: Noir
Poker Flat

One of the most interesting tidbits about Noir, the fifth long-player by Steve Bug, is that while the Poker Flat head honcho originally conceived of it as a concept album, he ultimately determined the concept to be too, quote, rigid, unquote. Perhaps that's another way of saying that once a certain number of pieces had been completed in accordance with the album's projected theme, Bug concluded that its overall mood would be overly monochromatic, not to mention dour and subdued, were he to hew too religiously to his initial concept. Some of that tone remains firmly in place on Noir, which might explain why the album, though immaculately crafted and produced over a three-year period, feels at times restrained, as if craving liberation.

Certainly the dramatic overture “Tell Me Why” exudes a brooding and mystery-laden feel that's consistent with the chiaroscuro style associated with film noir, even if the track's restrained intro eventually opens up into a more aggressive rhythmic attack. Unusual for a dance-oriented album, the also-ponderous “Poison of Choice” threads the bluesy shading of electric guitar playing in amongst its downtempo groove and synthesizers. The material works best when it casts off the shackles of the noir concept and simply lets go. By the time the third cut, “Serve Your Mistress,” ferociously digs into its groove, any thought of the album concept starts to fall by the wayside and the music breathes with a more natural fire and exuberance. The project's clubbier side also comes to the fore during “Those Grooves,” which kicks up some serious house steam for ten minutes, despite a needless tempo change that sees it slow to a near-crawl before the expected re-animation kicks in.

In a very literal sense, a destabilizing degree of tension infuses the release as Bug tries to establish a comfortable balance between its definition as a beat-driven collection and as a concept-inspired listening experience. Having said that, one of Noir's clearest strengths is how convincingly Bug navigates the album's diverse stylistic waters, with everything from a jazzy, acoustic piano-based setting (“The Seventh Victim”) to downtempo acid-funk (“Farewell Friend”) included. The synth-heavy “Somewhere in the Night” oozes a dystopic, sci-fi vibe that momentarily aligns Bug's music to the space-disco style associated with Prins Thomas, while Emilie Chick imbues the jazzy house of “Moment of Ease” with a smooth'n' soulful vocal that helps make the cut one of the album's most memorable. Though weakened by a cheesy lyric (“… Just let that song ride until there's nothing left but you, the DJ, and the vibration”), “No Adjustments” nevertheless benefits from the contrast that's introduced by Foremost Poets' MC turn, not to mention how the track's boosted by the tune's slinky bounce and inflamed acid synths. Overall, the album never lapses into repetitiveness and keeps the listener engaged and anticipating where he/she will be taken next.

October 2012