Although Rephlex is mainly known as the label founded by Mr. Richard D. James (and Grant Claridge). Although the label has put out releases by crowd-favorites such as Bogdan Raczynski, Global Goon, and Cylob, it's also long been a champion of very off-kilter releases by artists with minds that work sort of like mad scientists (which probably applies pretty well to many of the electronic artists on the roster as well). Take, for example, the crazy lo-fi duo of Bodenstandig 2000, who on their Maxi German Rave Blast Hits 3 managed to combine video game music and German vocals into a fizzorked album of highly-caffeinated goofball singalongs.
Pierre Bastien is one of those artists who qualifies as even more of a mad scientist, though, if only for the way that he's gone about constructing Mecanoid. Perhaps moreso than any recent album in memory, 'constructed' is the term that fits this album the best. Using small robots that he built out of Meccano parts, the album is half human and half robot. The funny little machines go about doing their small thing on a variety of instruments, whether it be percussive (marimba, castanets, tambourine, drum, piano, steel drums) or simple strings (bull roar, yueh ch'in, godje).
Because of their simple structures, the Mecanoids that Bastien have constructed can basically only play one part of each track, and that in and of itself makes this music seem very loop-based (which it is). Perhaps it's the softer, deft touch of the machines, though, that give the album a slightly more human feel. Listening along, one can almost imagine the little wheels turning and the small arms bobbing up and down, hitting the notes and hoping for the silent approval of their master. As sort of an homage to the little buggers, Bastien has named all the songs in palindromes, echoing their 'same forward as backward' movements.
As one may guess, the overall sound of the release is a bit on the minimal side. On the album opener of "Damn Mad," the little mecanoids click away at castanets and a marimba, creating oddly phased rhythms while Bastien adds bass and organ to the off-kilter hodgepodge. "Revolt Lover" follows it up with lo-fi lounge, as the mechanoids again take on simple loops of quiet percussion as Bastien adds the almost watery sounds of prepared trumpet. I can almost see him playing the sad lament at some rundown jazz club near a junkyard on the edge of town, accompanied only by his little bobbing friends.
There's no need to feel sorry for the little mecs, though, because they do their best, and you really can't beat them in terms of reliability (neither do you have to worry about them showboating or upstaging). "Gnu Lung" is a pretty little tama, tambourine, and drum track that pulses along quietly while "Tender Red Net" incorporates a bit of the glitch as the mechs do their best as turntablists (just the thought of it makes me chuckle even) and the track shuffles along with bits of electric piano, bass, and godje. In the end, this isn't a release that you'll enjoy if you're expecting cerebral electronic music. In fact, it's nearly completely acoustic, but it still works in an oddly hypnotic way. Personally, I'd absolutely love to see some of these tracks performed live, because at this point I can barely get the image of a dippy-bird out of my head. Not only a great conceptual album, but one that is performed well too.