Arguably the most criminally under-recognized band of their era, the British duo A.R. Kane anticipated virtually all of the key musical breakthroughs of the 1990s a decade before the fact, with the roots of everything from shoegazing to trip-hop to ambient dub -- even those of post-rock -- lying in their dreamy, oceanic sound. Formed in London in 1986, A.R. Kane were essentially the partnership of Alex Ayuli and Rudi Tambala; hailed in the press as "the black Jesus and Mary Chain" upon debuting the following year on One Little Indian with the single "When You're Sad," they moved to 4AD later in 1987 to release the follow-up EP Lollita, an impressively eclectic blend of gorgeous dream pop bliss and nightmarish squalls of feedback produced by the Cocteau Twins' Robin Guthrie.
While at 4AD, label chief Ivo Watts-Russell suggested that Ayuli and Tambala team with roster mates Martyn and Steven Young of Colourbox, champion mixer Chris "C.J." Mackintosh, and London DJ Dave Dorrell to record a single fusing the rhythms and beats of classic soul recordings with state-of-the-art electronics and production. Dubbing the collaboration M/A/R/R/S, the resulting single, "Pump Up the Volume" -- a breakthrough effort heralding sampling's gradual absorption from hip-hop into dance music and ultimately the pop mainstream -- soon topped the British charts, the first 4AD release ever to accomplish the feat. Plans for a M/A/R/R/S follow-up never materialized, however, and A.R. Kane again picked up stakes, moving on to Rough Trade to begin work on their much-anticipated full-length debut.
The resulting album, 1988's 69, fulfilled all the promise of A.R. Kane's earlier work and more; cosmic yet funky, its liquid grooves immersed in waves of ecstatic noise, the record's mastery of atmosphere and mood -- in tandem with its nearly formless songs -- establish it as a clear antecedent not only of the nascent shoegazer sound but also much of the underground dance music to emerge in the years to follow. The duo's double-LP follow-up, 1989's i, was even more impressive in its scope, breathlessly veering from melodic dance-pop to eerie drone-rock to epic dub mosaics. And then...nothing: only three years later did the next A.R. Kane LP, Americana -- a handful of new tracks combined with past highlights -- appear on the Luaka Bop label. By the time of a proper follow-up, 1994's New Clear Child, the moment had clearly passed. ~ Jason Ankeny