Royal Astronomy

It never used to be this enjoyable. There was a time when you'd sooner scrub the bath than listen to the latest [B]5-Ziq[/B] offering [I]for pleasure[/I]....

Royal Astronomy

7 / 10 It never used to be this enjoyable. There was a time when you'd sooner scrub the bath than listen to the latest 5-Ziq offering for pleasure. The four previous LPs were challenging, of course, but only in that it was a challenge to sit through a whole hour's worth of breakneck drill'n'bass manoeuvres without ever biting your knuckles in agony.



You'd wonder, too, if you were the sort of person who likes to 'chat' about hidden Autechre tracks on the Warp Records website, why Mike Paradinas rarely applied the same carefree attitude and fondness for melody found in his numerous side-projects - Jake Slazenger, Kid Spatula, et al - to his higher-profile 5-Ziq alias. And maybe, you figure while 'Royal Astronomy' plays, Paradinas thought that as well.



There are reasons, certainly, for mild Mike's almost embarrassingly accessible new record - for his gratuitous use of a string section - and perhaps the most pertinent seems to have evolved from his recent touring with Bjvrk, where it's rumoured the inventive Icelander introduced Paradinas to the benefits of experimenting with violins and, arguably, of experimenting in general. Whatever, the result is 5-Ziq's most distinctive and distinguished work so far; a record which switches, schizophrenically, between studied orchestral movements and filthy acid-scoured jungle, occasionally settling - and here he's most successful - on an alluring middle ground.



Things aren't so great, though, when Paradinas reverts to his tired and tested drill'n'bass method, fashioning hard-step hip-hop-sampling assaults like 'Burst Your Arm' and 'The Motorbike Track' as if still keen to remind us that, before the strings arrived, he always fought the case for difficult dancing. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with these, but when even Jega - a Paradinas disciple and signing to his Planet 5 imprint - executes this disjointed breakbeatery with more imagination, it might well be time to move on.



And sure enough, he does, translating his prettier electronic dreams into red-blooded pocket symphonies busied with staccato strings and tempered woodwind. 'Scaling' and 'Gruber's Mandolin' and the timpani-beatbox shuffle of 'The Hwicci Song' are noticeably Bjvrk-like in their unorthodox structure and arrangement, while '56' occupies the same muted ambient space as, unavoidably, Boards Of Canada.



But for the genuine 5-Ziq-for-the-masses moments, when Paradinas can no longer suppress his obvious ability to write astonishingly affecting music, we must turn to the songs featuring Japanese vocalist Kazumi: 'The Fear' and the parting nu-romantic slumber of 'Goodbye, Goodbye'. With these you understand why Paradinas is still relevant, still capable of brilliance, despite his obstinacy. You can understand, too, why listening to a 5-Ziq album has become less of a chore and a lot more enjoyable.

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