MERGE is proof that collaboration doesn’t have to mean compromise. The duo of Spartan Jet-Plex and Berko Lover have figured out how to mash together the glacial folktronica of the former with the latter’s smoothly textured rap funk, without losing any of the components that made them so interesting in the first place.
They’d had a first crack at working together on ‘Chrynostasis Interlude’, a cut from Spartan Jet-Plex’s excellent ‘Godless Goddess’ album, released earlier this year. That was a nice taster of things to come, but MERGE has given the pair enough creative space to explore their synergistic wig-outs to full effect.
You don’t have to venture far to get a taste of what I mean. Album opener ‘Thunder’ starts all mournful and glacial, with woozy synths and clumping drum patterns marking an uneasy groove. Vocals, courtesy of Spartan Jet-Plex, are suitably icy, as if Curve’s Toni Halliday were reciting Visage’s ‘Fade To Grey’ in the bathroom mirror. It’s suitably deadpan, but halfway through the whole thing takes a left turn. Berko Lover’s caffeinated flow interrupts the Jet-Plex lullaby and spluttering percussion chops up the smooth surfaces like a drill into a pavement. It’s disruptive, sure, but also exhilarating, and before you know it the whole thing has morphed into a radiant tidal wave of sunshine.
In fact, some of the album’s most thrilling moments are also its most wrecked. In ‘Kingdom Come’ the shifts of tone and tempo can feel like you’ve got two YouTube windows open at the same time. But it works, just about, the sudden bursts of four-to-the-floor dissonance and reedy yodels emphasising the prismatic subtlety of its slower, lolloping sections.
Elsewhere the disjunction is less radical but still productive. On ‘Loser’, layers of massed Jet-Plex croon offer dreamy textures for Berko Lover to jostle and prod. “I don’t have much to do, I don’t have much to do … You’re a loser too” she mutters, as kaleidoscope electronics turn themselves inside-out and hi-hats hit warp drive. The synths are more slurred on ‘Move Me’, but the duo’s vocals still lock together perfectly. “It’s all good love / Look I’m good at waiting / The others good at playa hating / Agitating, I’m captivating,” raps Berko Lover insouciantly, as Spartan Jet-Plex’s chanted refrain (“Turn around now, been a really really long time”) coils slowly through the chilly air like smoke. Team terrific, kids.