The house of Jaxx is a carnival labyrinth of smoke, mirrors and liquid insanity. Following their 1999 debut Remedy, with which they “fucked house music up the ass” (as mongoloid Armand Van Helden famously blurbed), Basement Jaxx took their deep house hooks and sci-fi sound effects into the fuschia fantasia of Rooty, the uniqueness of which spawned a whole new genre: punk garage. Now, with Kish Kash, brix boys Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton are building additions we didn’t even know house could hold. It’s rare for a new act today to sustain the same style for three consecutive albums and still sound fresh and vital, but the Jaxx have managed to do so by infusing their music with the flavor of the pop music scene of the moment. In ‘99, Latin-pop was all the rage, and the flamenco-boogie of “Rendez-Vu” showed the Enriques and Rickys of the world what it really meant to c’mon-shake-your-body-baby-do-that-conga. In ‘01, every alt-music ‘zine was rushing to be the next to herald the rebirth of indie rock, and “Where’s Your Head At” was the massive rock-house crossover hit of the year.
Kish Kash‘s almost-title track “Cish Cash” picks up where “Head” left off, with an even more propulsive rock drive, but the album’s main theme is the aftermath of the pop mash-up. An endlessly inventive effort, it leaves no musical category unexplored. Seriously. Country? The album’s final stretch is littered with guitar-strumming interludes. Opera? Check out the overwrought bridge of “Good Luck.” As most would attest, the genre-defying romps of mash-ups have a short shelf life, and the first listen is almost always the best. (Is anyone still listening to As Heard On Radio Soulwax, Pt. 2 anymore?) But Basement Jaxx go further by crafting delicious, well-structured melodies that only get better with repeated listens. It also helps that each track is stacked with more special effects than even the freakiest of Parliament’s spaced-out funk. The aforementioned “Good Luck,” sung with wicked venom by Lisa Kekaula, is an amazing mover-and-shaker, with a bossa nova rhythmic chugging that reflects the vocalist’s descent into a jealous hell. (In fact, it almost sounds like a decade-later answer record from girlfriend of the Pet Shop Boys’ gay protagonist in “Can You Forgive Her,” especially when she howls about him being “so totally deluded.”)
Ratcliffe and Buxton prove once again they have a knack for collecting great vocalists (maybe not since Sylvester put together Two Tons of Fun has dance music seen such a wealth of raw, androgynous diva power). *NSync’s JC Chasez unleashes a falsetto howl over “Plug It In” that should give Justin something to worry about. And Meshell Ndegeocello’s husky tenor is rewarded with not one but two of the disc’s highlights: “Right Here’s The Spot,” the Jaxx’s best P-Funk/Prince thumper yet (it wouldn’t be out of place on Motor-Booty Affair), and the album closer “Feels Like Home,” a gorgeously tremulous bending-saw ballad. Like a drug that can’t possibly last, all three of Basement Jaxx’s albums end up running out of steam by the end (“Living Room” is sho ‘nuff this disc’s “Crazy Girl”). But nonetheless, Kish Kash is the best dance album of the year.