Ror-Shak is the brainchild of DJ DB and DJ Stakka, two long standing veterans of the underground dance and breakbeat scenes.
DJ DB began his career as a professional DJ, before becoming an A&R consultant for Profile Records, where he put together the first Techno and Jungle compilations released in America. He has released 11 DJ mix CDs, and currently is one of the creative forces behind Breakbeat Science. His partner DJ Stakka is a legend in underground Drum and Bass circles, where he has produced hundreds of records — many of which have become club anthems.
What got me interested most about the Ror-Shak project however was not the underground dance pedigree of the two principals, but rather the choices of female vocalists they chose to involve in it. These include Wendy Starland, Morningwood's Chantal Claret, but most notably, Julee Cruise.
Julee Cruise is best known for "Falling," the theme song from the short-lived early nineties cult classic TV show, David Lynch's Twin Peaks. The acid trip quality and overall weirdness of that show led me to a couple of things back in the nineties which have long since become part and parcel of my artistic and cultural palette. One of these was of course the films of David Lynch. But the other was Julee Cruise herself.
On Cruise's first solo album, Floating Into The Night (which includes "Falling"), her erotic, torch-singer vocals and smoky chanteuse persona match the cinematic soundscapes produced by Lynch's longtime musical collaborator Angelo Badalamenti perfectly. The only other thing I have ever heard quite like it in terms of smoldering, trippy eroticism is an album which I'd equally recommend called Zipless, where a largely unknown singer named Vanessa Daou moans her way through an album of sonic orgasms based on the literary works of feminist author Erica Jong.
It's too bad Ror-Shak couldn't have gotten Vanessa Daou on board for this project as well. As it stands, trippy and even a little erotic (if somewhat more dryly so than on the works mentioned above) are two very good ways you could describe this CD.
On "Golden Cage," one of four contributions made here by Ms. Cruise, her breathy vocals glide in and out of a densely mixed tunnel of sound with a late night chill sort of feel to it. Jazzy guitar licks and light keyboard flourishes accentuate the overall feel here as a deep, resonant bass line swallows up everything in sight. If they ever opened up a combination underground dance club and brothel in Twin Peaks, the music could very well sound like this.
Morningwood's Chantal Claret spruces and sexes up a reworking of what I want to say is either a Cure or a New Order track — memory escapes me at the moment — on "A Forest." On this track, the feel is decidedly more up-tempo but maintains the shades of darkness and light so dominant on this disc. Likewise on "Rescue Me," Wendy Starland turns up the heat with the sort of nasty soul that used to be Grace Jones' stock in trade. Starland's vocals take a slightly darker turn on "Love & Pride," but maintain their soulfulness, doing a nice slow burn and making this one of the CD's strongest tracks.
But back to Julee Cruise, because I'm a big fan in case you haven't noticed. On "I Don't Want (A Remake)," the two producers here do something truly remarkable by allowing Cruise to basically freestyle her vocal part. Starting with a stream of consciousness sort of delivery, Cruise soon builds to a passion that never quite crests, but still leaves the listener hungry for more. The producers build all of this around a keyboard track that sounds not at all unlike a more modern version of what Badalamenti himself might have done. It works perfectly.
Normally, I'm not a big fan of most records coming out of underground dance scenes like Techno or Drum and Bass. This is simply because in spite of the swirling moods many of these records achieve, a lot of them never escape the feel of something that lacks warmth and feels synthetic.
So I have to give DJs DB and Stakka their props here. By utilizing the diverse vocal styles of people like Cruise, Claret, and Starland and building around more traditional song structures, they hit the mark here with a CD that more often than not successfully evokes the actual, if somewhat dark emotions they apparently intended.
Whirls and beeps not withstanding, this quite refreshingly feels like it was created by humans.