Slicker's latest album, along with Prefuse73's Vocal Studies and Uprock Narratives (Warp), exemplifies a brand new take on genre, one that penetrates deep into the heart of a given form, Trojan Horse-style, only to obliterate it from within. Like his colleague Scott Herren (Prefuse73, Delarosa + Asora, Savath + Savalas), Slicker's John Hughes is aided in his task by advances in software-based composition, but his idiosyncratic approach to sound puts the computer back in its proper place as platform not some icon perched upon a pedestal.
Hughes has had his hand in a slew of disparate projects, from the indie squall of Bill Ding to his recent soundtrack for Asia Argento's "Scarlet Diva," an amalgam of Morricone twang and John McIntire-assisted rock noir, to his duties running the eclectic Hefty imprint. But where previous efforts as Slicker demonstrated a sensibility only half-formed, The Latest shows Hughes fully in command of his capabilities. Adopting the onomatopoeic click-track of contemporary post-techno as lingua franca, he ventures out and brings back shards of dub, hip-hop, electro and, most compellingly, jazz, all of which ensure that his dialect encompasses ample camps.
Hefty's recent reissues of trombonist Phil Ranelin's astounding free-jazz records from the '70s resonate here in the deep, modal color of tracks like "Oper Huru," where horns bleed behind frazzled electronics like inky sky behind streetlight flare. An intriguing mix of registers complicates Slicker's sound to fascinating effect, as in "Hard Track," an unlikely merger of clipped Chicago house hi-hats, electro vocoders and ambient wash.
Hughes has obviously listened carefully to his heroes and peers whether as samples or simply snippeted homage, echoes of Aphex Twin, Two Lone Swordsmen and Herbert can be heard in the laser percussion of "Ika Freaka," the static-charged electro of "7words" and the deep house wash of "FrustRache." Men-about-town Matmos even contribute to the fidgety "Swap Track," a fine addition to the burgeoning genre of long-distance collaborations. But The Latest is far more than a collection of influences: with its dry punch, its bassy impulse and its glancing take on light and color, the album yields a startlingly vivid description of Hughes' vision. It's a forceful argument borne inside a luscious container, by turns languid and austere, restrained and generous. It's a powerful reminder of the value of style not as surface, but as signature.