That Carl Craig is one of '90s electronic music's founding fathers and most important emissaries; that London club Fabric is contemporary dance music's leading light; that its label one of the only bright spots in the frequently despicable realm of the deejay-mix disc -- these things are all to be taken for granted. So perhaps it's a case of raised expectations that makes the release of Craig's contribution to the oft-brilliant Fabric deejay mix, while not exactly disappointing, not a red-letter day either.
Craig is most famous perhaps as the producer who simultaneously steered techno back subtly toward its rare groove-jazz and funk roots, and pointed drum and bass in its unique direction. But for a man known for his eclecticism -- his discography includes everything from Innerzone Orchestra's drum-and-bass-defining "Bugz in the Bassbin" to the Sun Ra tribute album -- Fabric 25 finds Detroit's favorite son leading his listeners on a fairly pedestrian slammin'-in-tha-club trip.
Tracks like Soundstream's "3rd Movement," and Trickski's "Sweat," with its bow to jacking techno-house anthemic vocals -- "Gonna make you sweat / gonna make you work" -- are obvious floor-fillers, especially when offset by the organic sounds of Africanism's "Imbalaye" and darker techno efforts such as DJ Yoav B.'s "Energize." But at a point in deejay culture when audiences are split between the music's hardcore fans, possibly as discerning as they've ever been, and a mainstream audience less ambitious than ever, Craig seems unsure which side to be gunning for.
Perhaps the last laugh is with Craig, who has devised a tension-build-and-release mix with, ultimately, no release -- by halfway through his own "Darkness," the mix's penultimate track, Craig's got the listener itching, paranoid, swatting at pink elephants; Tokyo Black Star's "Blade Dancer" comes in abruptly, its synthetic strings promising relief that, sadistically, never comes.