Neotropic – White Rabbits

White Rabbits

What strikes one first when hearing about Neotropic is that she is among the leading female creators/recorders of ambient, dub-centric electronica soundscapes. Does Neotropic’s (real name Riz Maslen) gender factor into the substance of her recordings? Perhaps. Should her gender be her calling card in the male dominated world of ambient electronica? Certainly not; her music speaks for itself. So enough about her XX chromosome. Neotropic’s latest album, White Rabbits, is an overwhelmingly enjoyable collection of cinematic, mostly instrumental electronic music with usually subtle, significant beats and perfectly placed rare vocals.

White Rabbits has IDM touches, but Neotropic seems to resist any temptation to go into full-blown milder dance territory. The album opens with the sampled sounds of the sea and girls laughing on the brief “Girls at the Seaside.” It’s an organic way to start an LP just over an hour in length. “New Cross” proceeds with individual, spaced guitar chords and gentle beats that offer instant serenity. “New Cross” benefits from drowned samples of kids and female wails and, near its end, more dominant London Underground transport announcements. The aquatic ambience of the track combines blissfully with warm beats that can only be described as “chilled out” for genre association’s sake; there is nothing cold or impersonal about “New Cross.”

One of the more tense tracks on White Rabbits, “Inch Inch” is most notable for its progression from rolling drum ‘n bass lines to sparse, slow, liquidized tranquility. It’s a great piece that brings to mind Ultramarine’s work, especially on Every Man and Woman is a Star from 1992. “Magpies” ranks as Neotropic’s most vocally interesting track, with her altered voice, more dominant female moans, and other human cries that recall some of Enigma’s work on its second album, The Cross of Changes. “Magpies” is never cheesy, never less than fascinating and intensely attractive. It takes a completely unexpected turn near the end with an acoustic R’n’B inflection.

Neotropic records every sound so meticulously and naturally that each second offers increasingly clearer visual imagery for the listener. Footsteps, recorded announcements, human expression, everything on White Rabbits is genuine and delivered in the right amount. “Feelin’ Remote” features a delicious mix of folky/bluesy harmonica, percussive chimes, and more pronounced metallic beats. It’s like Bob Dylan jamming with Ultramarine for almost 10 minutes. White Rabbits seems to close with “If We Were Trees,” in which Neotropic repeats her frustrated plea, “Oh you’re doing my head in / Isn’t it time we called it a day.” Her words, pitch, and projection are slightly distorted with each repetition, and the track stretches out into ambient, open-field voice-free territory with live drummers and flutists.

The bonus, unnamed hidden track may shock listeners with its slicing keyboard lines and pounding drums. It doesn’t pierce ears, but there is definitely a menacing side to Neotropic that comes out only for the patient and devoted at the album’s end. The noisy bonus material draws Neotropic back to fiercer 90’s techno. Consistently stimulating and never formulaic, White Rabbits features brilliant manipulation of natural and artificial sounds with ever-present respect for the knob-flicker and her listeners. With its dramatic seven- to nine-minute-long tracks, White Rabbits is an ideal album for playing at a late night party or popping in the car disc changer for a long ride.