Personnel: Cabaret Voltaire (drum programming); Stephen Mallinder (vocals); Richard H. Kirk (guitar, synthesizer); Roger Quail (drums, percussion); Eric Random (tabla); Mark Tattersall (percussion).
Audio Remasterer: Denis Blackham.
Recording information: Western Works (02/1984-03/1984); Western Works (03/1984-04/1984).
Following neatly after The Crackdown's aggressive art/funk/electro combination, Micro-Phonies shows the duo taking that combination to a stronger level. Having invented the shadowy, murkier side of industrial/noise experimentation, here Cabaret Voltaire make their equally justified claim at fully kickstarting the beat-heavy crunch such labels as Wax Trax! would pursue shortly thereafter. DAF and the On-U Sound collective deserve as much notice for this, but the Cabs' relatively higher profile in the English/American cultural scheme made them the harbingers as much as anyone. Flood's sympathetic co-production with the band is another feather in his cap, and the album sounds just as strong today as it did upon its release. Micro-Phonies' most noted tracks are the appropriately funky, horn-heavy "James Brown," and the gripping "Sensoria," which makes for a brilliant album closer, with nervous-tension synth signals and a spare but compelling guitar line over another strong beat combination. Subtler moments abound as well -- there's a nice combination of the Cabs' initially understated approach and the greater opportunities available to them in the album's recording. "The Operative" is an unheralded highlight of the release, Mallinder's low-key speak/singing sidling alongside the crisp but not overpowering rhythm, controlled funk bass and guitar and touches of dub melodica sneaking through the mix. Other hints of the dub influences that the band has always embraced crop up on songs like (unsurprisingly) "Digital Rasta." Throughout the album, Mallinder submerges his vocals into the music rather than calling overt attention to them, the reverse of what a lot of later industrial acts would do (often to their detriment). It's a sharp continuation of the Cabs' similar practice from many earlier numbers, here used in a newer musical style. The CD version of Micro-Phonies includes the fine 12" mixes for "Sensoria" and "Blue Heat," a welcome bonus. ~ Ned Raggett
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