12 Bit Blues works a lot better than you might expect a blues album by a Canadian turntablist to work. As at least one review has already pointed out, this is partly because of the technology used in its creation. The album was created using a decidedly old-school sampler, 1987's E-mu SP-1200, which is apparently 'famed for its gritty texture and ability to simulate the "warmth" of vinyl recordings' (thanks, wikipedia), but seems remarkably restrictive by today's standard: any single sample can be no longer than 2.5 seconds. Grit and warmth are two things that early blues recordings had in spades. Just as importantly, the limitations of the technology result in a relatively raw-sounding, stripped-back album. Relative only to other Kid Koala albums, perhaps - we're not talking Leadbelly-raw - but, still.
The songs which make up 12 Bit Blues all sample old blues records; Kid Koala manipulates these samples, deepening a mournful vocal, playing around with a snatch of harmonica or piano. By doing so, he creates a groove-filled, entertaining record which is amongst his best work. His clever scratching and occasional tendency to introduce incongruous samples (such as pieces of cheesy spoken-word dialogue which plays out on '10 Bit Blues') lend the album a largely playful atmosphere. This is exemplified by '8 Bit Blues (Chicago to La to NY)', 12 Bit Blues' catchiest song, which features yelped area codes and frantic scratching. There are, though, more solemn moments, like the slow, mournful '5 Bit Blues' and '9 Bit Blues'. The latter features a notably clever use of a harmonica sample, which is cut up to create a wonderful, tremulous solo.
The mood may be inconsistent, but the quality is consistently high; there are no tracks which will have you reaching for the skip button. It's an impressive release which makes more intelligent use of blues samples than the best-known instance of an electronic musician doing so, Moby's Play. A lot of hard work must have gone into its creation, but it's never hard work to listen to; it's an album which is technically impressive, but works well as a pleasant, playful soundtrack to your day even if you have no interest in the process which led to its creation. Opening track and mission statement '1 Bit Blues (10,000 Miles)' ('youngsters today will take anything and make the blues out of it') gets it right: 'the Kid is in rare form'.
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