Album Reviews

Skalpel – Skalpel

(Ninja Tune) UK release date: 19 April 2004

Skalpel - Skalpel

“We’re going to play some Polish records. That shouldn’t be too bad.” This modest beginning to second track Not Too Bad is an indication of the subtle humour sprinkled throughout Skalpel‘s debut album release on Ninja Tune.

The label have clearly been sending the scouts further afield in search of experimental talent lately, for this duo hail from Wroclow in Poland. Picking up a host of awards in their home country, the time has come for them to broaden their catchment area.

We should be grateful, as Skalpel is an atmospheric and strangely moving collection of easy paced beats, laced with samples of Polish jazz records from the 1960s and 1970s which form the backbone of the duo’s influences. And if that scene might sound very obscure to us, it’s interesting to note that it produced the music to Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, not to mention the only violinist to ever play with Miles Davis.

Of course this doesn’t mean the album is wholly derivative of that period – Skalpel are totally responsible for the beats, which lean towards the acoustic. The evocative High opens the record, some nice muffled horns blending with a soft fretless bass. Not Too Bad puts together some amusing vocal clips with a languid lower range riff, before 1958 steps up the pace toward drum and bass, petering out suddenly at the end.

The sound picture is a widescreen, cinematic one – it’s easy to form pictures in your head to go with the music. Textures vary from the warmth of the muffled trumpets and doctored piano on So Far to bleak moments like the opening of Asphodel, a sinister voice intoning that “no-one will admit they still exist”.

At other points it’s possible to determine the influence of ambient pioneers The Orb, nowhere more so than in the druggy spoken word introduction to Break In. Once this is done, however, Skalpel set up a dialogue between a sweet melancholy and the occasional psychedelic trumpet scream, making for some edgy listening on headphones!

The most successful track is From Behind The Curtain, where a lone Polish voice introduces an intricate breaks rhythm, overlaid by vibraphone and cold synthesizer. The result is a highly evocative piece of music that brings a kind of uneasy comfort. A mournful saxophone solo ensues, the spoken word vocal bringing the track to an uncomfortable rest. Closing up are the gorgeously full chords of Sculpture, the vocal summarising that “this then is stereophonic sound, sound sculptured in space”.

Skalpel’s debut proves a captivating excursion into that space, and is a treat best saved for the wee small hours.

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Skalpel – Skalpel