Roni Size Joins a Band

Only someone as successful at building a name brand as Roni Size — following the near-ubiquitously praised album New Forms, which won Britain’s high honor, the Mercury prize — would hide behind so vague a moniker as Breakbeat Era. Imagine Aphex Twin following up Selected Ambient Works II with an outfit named Digital Atmospheres. In any case, consider Ultra-obscene (1500 Records/A&M) a meaty Everything but the Girl, as vocalist Leonie Laws lays down throaty, artfully minimal lyrics with an intense awareness of the serpentining substrata inherent in drum’n’bass music; to hear her go with the mechanical flow is to experience the kind of mentality that first distinguished jazz singers from plain old singers, once upon a time. Laws’ vocalizing gives new meaning to the term “human beatbox.” And her penchant for repeating phrases brings to mind Michael Stipe’s elfin, hesitant wordplay. Meanwhile, Size’s productions (in cahoots with DJ Die) keep things exceedingly simple. Cynics will say he’s saving his beats for the next New Forms, but close listeners may just find this album the most rewarding thing he’s yet waxed.

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