Faith in the Future (Astralwerks)

Sep 26, 2001 at 4:00 am
Some say Timothy Wiles is a scholar/practitioner of hip-hop from California. Others say he built his own time machine. Both statements are true. Faith in the Future, Wiles' second full-length as Uberzone, is omnivorous hip-pop -- scratchy, samply, burbling with electronics, embracing all sounds funky from the past 20 years or so.

It's an irony about electronic music that in order to be futuristic, the creators cannibalize the past. They use outmoded rhythm generators, scour thrift stores for dusty vinyl. Uberzone does the classy thing and hooks up Afrika Bambaataa for the stupendous "2KOOL4SKOOL." When Afrika raps, "What is this electro-funk that's driving y'all crazy?" a history of self-referential pop -- "The Twist," "Rappers' Delight" -- swims into focus, just in time for you to notice that electro drove us crazy in 1982 or something. Buzz Lightyear would call this a "temporal displacement." For the listener, it's a moment of highly organized confusion, capped a second later by Afrika's cue, "Uberzone/drop the tone," prompting disorienting gales of Roland effects that blow across the parking-lot regularity of the electro stomp. And that's just the beginning of that one song! Acid house, breaks and big beat all get their turn on Faith in the Future. So do a lot of guest vocalists, including Lida Husik, who's sampled for the mesmerizing "Dreamtime," and current dancehall star Beenie Man, who jumps from soulful crooning to full-throttle ragga rant in "Science Fiction." A gold star and a free coffee to Uberzone for avoiding Björk and that awful what's-her-name from No Doubt.) The album's most curious track, "Frequency," sounds like a Pretty Hate Machine-era Nine Inch Nails, featuring vocals by Helmet frontman Page Hamilton. Some of you will buy the album for this reason alone, but that has to be the only reason the song exists here.

"Bounce," the best of the five instrumentals on the album, showcases Uberzone's turntable theatrics -- like R2-D2 rapping -- over the buzz and throb of acid house. But the title track could be an idea that Boards of Canada had and then forgot. It's neither meaty nor beaty, suggesting that Wiles' faith is tentative, real enough for no more than a contemplative pause before returning to that old-time electronic music.