David Holmes’ Bow Down to the Exit Sign (2000)

Bow Down to the Exit Sign

Album: Bow Down to the Exit Sign
Artist: David Holmes
Year: 2000
Reason Featured: #41 Album for NME’s Top Fifty Albums of 2000
My Favorite Songs: Sick City, Compared to What, 69 Police, Hey Lisa
Their Grades: Metacritic (84/100)
My Grade: 86%

Most of the DJ-made records I’ve encountered suffer under the weight of sameness. The beats, stunted piano stabs and samples all seem to fall into a template which is meant to be original but comes out sounding like everyone else. Even if David Holmes is sometimes prone to meandering, you have to give him credit for creating a record as diverse as it is cohesive. It’s got moments of R&B followed up by straight up rock and roll, trip-hop getting off the bus at the sound of a beautiful string arrangement.

The vocal tracks here speak to the quality of the rest of the album. Bobby Gillespie and Carl Hancock Rux both sing on one great song and one average one. For Gillespie, “Sick City” sounds like the best moments of his band Primal Scream with Holmes piloting straight for the heart of the new millennium while Rux adds some confident soul to the spacey “Compared to What.” The other two tracks they’re featured on (“Slip Your Skin” and “Living Room” respectively) lack the drive which sets the others apart.

But, as a DJ, Holmes has to succeed as an instrumentalist in order to be thought worthwhile. Without a vocalist to anchor down a track, it’s easy to lose a sense of melody. In this realm, he hits but more often misses. Even then, he’s at least still close to the ball when swings; his batting average remains admirable. “69 Police” doesn’t need a singer to be the best song on here and album closer “Hey Lisa” utilizes strings The Verve would’ve been proud of circa Urban Hymns. 

Like so many others of his era, Bow Down to the Exit Sign conjures up a futuristic landscape which may never be in reality. But it’s still a great place to aim for, in music and life in general.

Not featured on Spotify but here’s a video for “69 Police”

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Two Lone Swordsmen’s Tiny Reminders (2000)

Tiny Reminders

Album: Tiny Reminders
Artist: Two Lone Swordsmen
Year: 2000
Reason Featured: #19 Album for Pitchfork’s Top Twenty Albums of 2000, #31 Album for NME‘s Top Fifty Albums of 2000
My Favorite Songs: Neuflex, Section, The Bunker, It’s Not the Worst I’ve Looked… Just the Most I’ve Ever Cared
Their Grades: NME (9/10), Pitchfork (9.3/10)
My Grade: 78%

When my brother walked into the room as I was listening to this album, he asked with a smirk, “Since when have you been into house music?” Calling Two Lone Swordsmen “house music” seems like a bit of a stretch. The strobes would have to blink pretty slow to stay in step for songs like these; this is music made for cerebral reflection more than lose-your-shit dancing. But his offhand remark does go to show how little I’ve exposed myself to records made by DJs instead of bands. Even recently, I missed Disclosure’s record by a mile last year and still don’t know what “Latch” sounds like. At least not knowingly.

My exploration into house, dub and DJ-centric genres is limited so I’m wary to make any bold pronouncements but this album gave me a bunch of Tiny Reminders (http://instantrimshot.com) as to why I don’t gravitate toward music like that in the first place. I can’t deny Andrew Weatherall and Keith Tenniswood’s talent in amassing and arranging these beats, beeps and breakdowns into such an inhuman yet pleasing aesthetic. So don’t jump down my throat yet if you just love Two Lone Swordsmen (do you people exist?) Repetition isn’t what turns me off here and neither is impersonality. It’s the lack of consistency which gets to me.

I’ve found records like these possess great moments but rarely great movements. The songs I really enjoy on here come about four or five tracks apart from each other and most of the tracks struggle with staying engrossing from beginning to end. For that matter, the only song I really love on here is “The Bunker,” dynamic, pop-oriented and Stephin Merritt synthy sans baritone vocals. Almost every song on here manages to scrounge up some stellar synth line or drum beat but they come and go like thieves in the night. When you make a record which sounds like the musical expression of binary code, you’re going to end up with as many zeroes as there are ones. Still, it’s “one” moments definitely make this worth listening to.

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