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Wherever I Am I Am What Is Missing

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Album Review

One common path for a band to take over the course of their career is to test-drive a musical formula for an album or two, and then transcend their sound by broadening themselves, experimenting with new genres, sonics, and lyrical inspirations. Such is the path for great bands as diverse as The Clash, Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blur, and the Beastie Boys. For Laika, their fourth full-length album Wherever I Am I Am What Is Missing seemingly has them taking the path in reverse. Laika streamlined their recording process for the album, with lead singer/songwriter Margaret Fiedler, producer/engineer/songwriting partner Guy Fixsen, and drummer Lou Ciccotelli doing most of the playing and recording themselves. The results of excluding their frequent multi-instrumental collaborators are apparent throughout the album (and even alluded to with the album's title). That is not to say that Laika is missing the fundamental aspects of its trademark sound: syncopated beats, odd time signatures, subdued vocals, driving bass grooves, and quivering keyboards. However, without the aid of the additional instrumentation from their previous records (such as trumpets, loops, samples, and the sorely missed electric guitars), Laika's typically airy atmosphere sounds more sterilized this time around. Without the usual fixings, the Fender Rhodes keyboard seems alone in the mix, as Laika's over-dependence on this 70's-era Miles Davis fixture becomes apparent. The stripped-down, introverted feel of WIAIAWIM is accompanied by a shift in the presence of Fiedler, who forgoes her typically world-weary lyrical topics (sexuality, domestic violence, etc.) and occasional "rapping" for more personal lyrics ("You broke a heart many a-time/But you'll never break this heart of mine," she coos on "Alphabet Soup") and straightforward singing. Make no mistake, Laika has not lost their ability to produce brooding and compelling music (see "Girl Without Hands" and "Barefoot Blues"), and WIAIAWIM may be their most consistent-sounding record from start to finish. However, what seems like a step forward for the group is actually more of a step back in the construction of their sound. The element of surprise, the hint of the unexpected — wherever it is, it is missed.


Formed: 1993 in London, England

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '90s

Like their namesake -- the dog rocketed into orbit by the Soviets renowned as the first living creature to exit the earth's atmosphere -- Laika traveled the spaceways, forging a distinct and wildly experimental fusion of hip-hop, jazz, electronica, dub, and Krautrock without earthly precedent. Somewhat of a Too Pure label all-star team comprised of former Moonshake vocalist/programmer Margaret Fiedler and bassist John Frenett, onetime PJ Harvey drummer Rob Ellis, and noted producer Guy Fixsen as...
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Wherever I Am I Am What Is Missing, Laika
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