Icarus is a duo out of the UK who make increasingly shattered jungle music. To date, they've released something approximately 3 full-length albums, as well as a batch of singles and EPs. Six Soviet Misfits is their first release that is being made available in the United States, and although it doesn't contain any new material from the group, it provides a nice primer into their fractured world of rhythm and texture.
Friends of both Kieren Hebden (Four Tet, Fridge) and Dan Snaith (Manitoba), the duo actually has almost nothing in common with either aforementioned artists. Instead, they create long works that break down both beats and melodies into microstructures, drawing out individual sounds and revealing the hidden innards. There are only 11 total tracks spread out over the course of this 2CD release, and even the format is being pushed slightly to break up the work (as the combined times of both CDs could easily have fit onto one). The release opens with the 3 tracks from their 2000 UL-6 EP (on Output Records), and the title track sets the tone of things to come with warm pads and splintered snares that swarm and crack behind slowly-evolving drones of sound. "Borichean Pintek" starts out with even more minimal drones before ripping into a skittering frenzy of programming. "Deutsche Oper" closes the trio of tracks with an upright bass over filtered strings.
Two tracks from the Soviet Igloo 12" (released in 2002) follow-up shortly, and "Benevolent Incubator" shows the first real flutters of melody for the group, as a warm keyboard loop plays out over what sounds like a chopped-to-bits jazz rhythm section. It's all micro-dots of snares and hi-hats as an almost Boards-Of-Canada-esque melody drifts over the top. It's one of the lighter-sounding tracks on the entire release, and easily one of the best as well. "Despair" continues the more melodic side for the group, mixing slightly less hyperventilating percussion with gentle swarms of noise and a slow melody.
The second disc of the release is comprised entirely from their Misfits release from last year on Not Applicable Records. Instead of continuing where the slightly lighter songs of the Soviet Igloo release left off, they again delve back into more twisted sounds, even falling off into downright haunting on the opening track of "Nine Fresian." It's here that the beat programming becames almost completely decimated, spitting out regurgitated chunks of what were once drums while eerie tones waft. "Dolphin Lulic" pops things right back into a brighter light, mixing what could actually be digitally-manipulated sounds of the creatures themselves with skittering programming. "Skale Slug" finds them moving into almost jazz territory, mixing some saxophone noodling over the top of some more minimalist breaks. "Elephant Kiosk" closes things out with even more hiccuping-beats and tonal swarms, and instead of leaping into even more directions it instead sounds like the group has come full circle.
Minimal and somewhat dense at the same time, Six Soviet Misfits is a nice compilation of work from a group who has yet to make a dent in the United States. Pushing breakbeats and jungle music into new territory, the duo seems to have stripped the music of nearly all its baggage and then tried to rebuild it from the ground up, succeeding wildly in places while at other times somewhat repeating themselves. Even though the work on this 2CD spans almost 2 years, there isn't always a linear path of progression that the group has followed, and that may be a good thing. It can only lead one to guess where they'll go from here, and it will probably be wrong.