Riz Madlen (a.k.a. Neotropic, Small Fish with Spine) became familiarised with electronic music production by simply being around it during her day job, before taking out a loan and getting right into it. Her first full-length album, Fifteen Levels of Magnification, was grounded in a drum-and-bass sound, but richer with samples and organic sounds than average. With her second release under the pseudonym Neotropic, Madlen diversified her sound until it became, quite frankly, greater than the sum of its parts.

Mr. Brubaker's Strawberry Alarm Clock has influences from hip-hop and drum-and-bass, but the turntablist-style cuts, samples, and breaks lend each track a more compositional sound than one finds in run-of-the-mill electronic music. Mr. Brubaker's overall sound is thematically aligned with the cyberpunk mode, and though I hate to admit it reminds me of Blade Runner. At times, the loops become so dense and cluttered that the music loses balance (e.g. Ultra Freaky Orange) though this may be intentional.

Madlen is currently recording with the ntone label (affiliated with Ninja Tune). Though her releases are few and far between, each is an essential album for electronic music. Apparently, she is branching into composing soundtracks for independent films and the next release will probably involve this material.

In the predominantly male world of intelligent dance music musicians, Riz Maslen, who records as Neotropic, stands out not only as a female, but also as an extremely talented and innovative artist.

Riz Maslen's musical career took off in the late 80's when she moved from Gloucestershire to London and met the duo of electronic musicians known as Future Sound of London. On their album Accelerator, which includes the massively popular track Papua New Guinea, FSOL used Riz's strangely hypnotic vocals to great success. Her interest in electronic music growing, Riz took out a loan and set up a home studio of her own. When 1995 rolled around, she signed to Ninja Tune's sister label, Ntone, and released the Tumbleweed and Laundraphonic EPs. During the same year, she also signed to the Oxygen Music Works label with her lesser known side project, Small Fish With Spine, releasing the singles Sickleback and Fugu. Through these early releases and her inclusion on several Ninja Tuna compilations, Riz quickly established herself as an artist to watch.

In each Neotropic album, Riz has completely redefined her sound in a way that is similar to Aphex Twin's own stylistic restlessness. Her first release, 15 Levels of Magnification, is a blend of hip hop beats, drum and bass, ambient and electo styles all swirled together into a brooding, dark work. Her second, amusingly titled release, Mr. Brubaker's Strawberry Alarm Clock, takes her style to a new level with a much more polished sound that includes more of her beautifully haunting vocals. I should clarify a bit about my usage of the word vocals in this context. In her 3 albums, there's only has one song with lyrics -- in the others, Riz generally uses her voice as an instrument, letting long sustained notes drift their way through her dark, dense music like a ray of sunlight piercing dark clouds.

In recent years, Riz has taken an increasing interest in independent films and even produced the music for "System Noise", a film shown at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival. Her most recent album, La Prochaine Fois (the next time), reflects her growing interest in independent film and is actually a soundtrack to Riz's own 40 minute, self-described "ambient road movie", which is conveniently included with the album on a second disc. As such, the album is a complete departure from the sound of her previous releases. Featuring collaborators Nick Mcabe of the now defunct Verve, Mike Rowe, keyboardist for both Oasis and Sheryl Crow, and Sally Herbert, who has played strings for the Manic Street Preachers, the album casts off the electronic roots of Neotropic and gives birth to a sound that has been described as "electronic folk music". The dark hip hop ambience of her previous works demur to a lighter, instrumental sound of strings and guitar sculpted into the sound of a sunny afternoon's daydream. Delicious stuff.

If her most recent album is the final culmination of Neotropic's sound, I'd be perfectly, blissfully content, but I can't imagine that Riz Maslen would ever stop growing and improving her art. I eagerly await her next release.

Quick note: In the previous writeup, Riz Maslen's name is incorrectly noted as "Ris Madlen". Maslen is correct.

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