King Kooba – Enter The Throne Room

Too many kings

It was the turn of the millennium when the hype around dowtempo slash electronica slash headz slash chillout was reaching enormous levels. Hundreds of projects popped up everywhere, fueled by the success of its early protagonists, hoping to catch some of the limelight that was seemingly easy to reach. King Kooba is a good example – even if they definitely weren’t in it for fame and fortune. They did their thing. And if they never really took off big time, then it wasn’t because of a lack of quality or depth, it was because of their concept – or the difficulties in finding one.

This album does offer a lot of quality material. It is intriguingly eclectic, clearly well produced, and there are enough tracks that don’t lose charm after several rounds of listening. “Enter The Throne Room” did find its way into my DJ bag lots of times, and it didn’t just stay there waiting to be played.

“California Suite” got a lot of plays, a really slick track for an elegant evening at the bar or lounge. Relaxed beats, classy use of strings, the clever integration of an a capella by Esther Phillips  – there’s definitely nothing to complain about. Or “Koobesq”. A piece that could have just as well come from benchmark producers Thievery Corporation, featuring a convincing performance of vocalist Melissa Heathcote.

You might also enjoy “Single Malt”, sitting in a good place between Lounge and Drum’n’Bass. You might as well argue that the attempt to produce coolness is a little too obvious – but then, the whole genre was created to primarily do just that.

“Spectra In C Minor” is further expanding the range of styles, speeding things up without losing the relaxed attitude, a simple yet effective bass line, solid work on the drum parts – this could have come from the likes of  Red Snapper, and that clearly is a compliment.

Theoretically – if “Enter The Throne Room” had kept the material to a single longplayer and not two, it probably would have been an excellent album. Would have. Things start to become complicated on side three. “Terminal X” is a dark mixture of restrained Drum’n’Bass and something like Jazz. It sounds like something that would work nicely in a live set – but on this album it isn’t much more than an exercise. An attempt.

The “Pugwash Beats” take us to abstract Hip Hop spheres, and we begin to understand the problem of this album: with every new track, a new box is opened, and instead of marveling at the many facets of “Enter The Throne Room” we increasingly suspect a lack of concept. Even the slick production of Simon Richmond a.k.a. Palm Skin Productions doesn’t change that.

Side four reinforces this impression with some hectic Drum’n’Bass on “Fraternity” and “Catscratch”. Track after track you keep wondering how that really cool and competent downtempo project could turn into such a joyless D’n’B exercise.

It’s really sad. In the end you’re sitting there a little confused and aggravated by these relentless beats, and even while they are still beating you already know that this second vinyl will probably not leave the sleeve again. But the first one is really good. The one that gets it a place in the DJ bag for the evening at the bar. Better than nothing.

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