Wisp: Honor Beats

Wisp's (Niagara Falls, NY's Red Dunn) Honor Beats appears intent on straddling eras, Medieval on the one hand and today's on the other. Certainly the cover escutcheon immediately announces the older connection and the music follows suit. Imagine the sound of frenzied breakcore, amen, and drum & bass beats paired with brightly blazing synth melodies of a faux-Renaissance, traditional folk-styled vintage and you'll have a pretty good idea of the album's character. Wearing his influences on his sleeve (u-ziq, Aphex Twin), Dunn doesn't break radical new ground yet treads the mapped territory convincingly enough.

“Beadumægen” opens the disc auspiciously with a reedy fanfare and marching rhythms before exploding into a buzz-storm of frenetic beatmaking. As one might expect, the album includes a goodly share of similarly-spirited ravers (the breathless stormer “Lyftgeswenced” and furiously slamming “FoldBold (The Siege)”) but Dunn knows when to tone it down too: “Drycræft,” an atmospheric interlude of synth placidity and blurry voice samples, offers respite from the manic intensity, while “Hnipian” opts for a gentler, folk-styled ambiance, though it too gradually surrenders to pummeling breaks episodes. Two longer tracks give Wisp more room to explore: “Clipian” at first promises to be an exercise in acidy skip but then progressively moves on to thunderous breaks and quasi-classical keyboard interludes, while the almost 10-minute “Sceadugenga” opts for panoramic drama. Incorporating Medieval elements and themes into contemporary musical isn't a novel concept—Rick Wakeman's bloated The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and Matmos's The Civil War two infamous examples—but Dunn wisely reigns in the pretension on Honor Beats by keeping the focus on beats more than anything else.

September 2006