It's November! Time for our monthly run down of what's moving our minds and our feet...
Easy! It's LEM time!
It's been an exceptional last month for new 170ish bpm music, and narrowing my favourites of the last few weeks down to just the prime cuts has been no mean feat, in a "first world problems" kind of way. October has seen me falling in love with drum & bass all over again and reminiscing back to my humble introductions to the genre- in line with that my selections feature plenty of head nod-able beats, rolling subs, tense atmospherics and some good old-fashioned choppy breakbeats, stripping things back down to basics. As ever though there are still one or two more quirky ones thrown in there for good measure.
Escher- Rugged (Out now on Narratives Music)
Sometimes, with the absolute swathes of cookie-cutter rubbish that get put out every week it can seem a thankless task to try and keep track of it all, and even trickier to separate the wheat from the chaff. Sometimes however a tune surfaces that manages to do everything properly, making it all worthwhile and even making you rethink your stance on the genre as a whole. Rugged is one such tune, a rare example of paradigmatic drum & bass music, not only from a production perspective but also in terms of sheer depth, energy and intensity.
Breaking down Rugged, on the surface there appears nothing extraordinary going on- and that's probably because there isn't, because the extraordinary makes way for the archetypal, but it's the archetypal done so well that, to use a metaphor appropriate for this label, every one of the track's elements tells its own story; break edits flow naturally and unquantized as though they're being performed live by a real drummer; reeses seethe conjuring genuine anger. As with all very good music, everything seems to happen exactly as you expect it but without you realising- it's the craft of production and the proof of how real and human electronic music can sound on show at its very peak. I could probably go on about this release and the similarly stellar flip side "Late Snare" but there are only so many ways you can say that something is superb.
Ruffhouse- Classified/Pellet (Out now on Alignment Records) & The Foot/Bypass (Out now on Ingredients Records)
Bristolian trio Ruffhouse, or as they may be more familiarly known as (and I hope also to their mothers) Pessimist, Vega and Cooper make their opening mark with a pair of 12"s on the ever-exciting new label Alignment and Ingredients respectively. For such relatively new names there's a palpable maturity oozing out from these four tracks; hard-hitting yet spacious; gritty yet polished. It's the sort of music that relies on masterful use of dynamics and an ear for subtlety to work, evidently skills which Ruffhouse's members possess in abundance.
Yet despite the uniform and stripped down nature of their production these are two very different releases; Classified/Pellet undeniably the more aggressive and dare I say dancefloor friendly of the two while Bypass and The Foot are more restrained, pensive and slow-burning, and ultimately it's this variety of moods that they effortlessly manage to mould their sound into which bodes so promisingly for Ruffhouse's future.
Silent Dust- Massive (feat. Zilla Rocca)/Vostok 1(Out November 5th on none60)
If you've followed this site at all in the last year or so, you'll have noticed by now that we're all pretty big fans of Silent Dust. Their most recent in of a succession of excellent self-released singles sees them further demonstrating their versatility with sophomore hip hop original "Massive", featuring Philadelphia MC Zilla Rocca, a name previously unknown to me who describes himself as a "noir hop originator" and "corrupt novelist". As these self-bestowed titles would indicate, his absorbed musings which sort of flow like a hazy train of aggressive but curiously intelligent thoughts ("don't sell drugs get a job and shit/narcissist want to whine and bitch/karma's shit") make him a perfect match to Silent Dust's avant-garde production, which even when underpinned with 808s still finds room for plenty of their trademark expressive atmospheric work.
The flip side "Vostok 1" represents the duo stepping back into more familiar 170bpm territory with a snareless percussion driven beat, rich sweeping synths and a bassline that morphs and evolves ever so subtly through the track's progression, gaining in richness and warmth towards its climactic breakdown. It's nice that clearly the greatest of attention has been paid to this middle section of the tune which is not so much a moment of respite but rather one where everything comes together, focussed around a very pretty special spoken word vocal sample which I'm hesitant to ruin but with a little imagination I'm sure you can approximate from the track's title.
Future Cut- Obsession (Ulterior Motive Remix) (Out now on Razor's Edge)
There's an old saying that goes "don't mess with the classics." Ulterior Motive however, don't tend to mess. Rather than remix, this is more of a transposition, keeping Obsession right at the cutting edge of modern drum & bass production, as it once was when originally released in 2001. As far as Ulterior Motive are concerned, this is up there with their strongest production work alongside the likes of Featherweight and 2098, almost modern drum & bass anthems in their own right.
Admittedly, I haven't been a fan of all their recent output which to my mind has been at times overly technical, but here the arrangement of bass and break edits is kept tasteful and restrained, and most importantly the original elements that make Future Cut's original such a memorable piece of music; the vocal and the old school analogue stabs and pads, are given the most room to shine.
Dawn Day Night- Dawn Day Night EP (Out now on Astrophonica)
You'd be forgiven for not really getting Dawn Day Night's debut EP at first (I certainly didn't!) but listen again without stroking your beard (/bumfluff) and appreciate that sometimes we get so caught up with overanalysing everything that we forget that dance music doesn't have to be aggressive, melancholic or even necessarily emotional, sometimes it can just be fun too. And it's ideal when that fun is accompanied by a healthy dose of genre-bending originality on top.
In the case of Dawn Day Night, the result is an uncanny and bombastic blend of 90s Logical Progression era jungle, footwork, trap hop and lots of funky instrumentation and percussion that I suppose could be unsatisfactorily categorised as world music, best summed up by EP opener "Alcoholic Dance Flow". Sometimes the experiment gets a little over the top, as is the case on the stuttering "Death Of Scorpio", but even this remains an interesting listen. Besides, this is Low End Movements so I couldn't really ignore any release that includes a track called "Big Booty Girls", could I?
Various Artists- Way Of The Samurai II- Code Of Honour (Out now on Samurai Music)
The drum & bass album in any sense is a tricky format to pull off, and when it's a compilation rather than one artist's unified vision it's even tougher. Too often I find myself mis sold by promises that an artist or labels's intentions were to create something that stands on its own as a start to finish album and find myself listening to an hour of looped breaks and recycled percussion samples, usually bored to the point of tears by the end of it.
Rather than attempt to create a literal long player across over 22 unmixed tracks and over 2 hours playing time, instead Code Of Honour achieves something greater, by presenting a snapshot in time of the label, its sound and its artists both veteran and brand new, which in turn through the variety and depth of its material provides as close as it's possible to do so in such a relatively small space, a snapshot of where drum & bass is exactly right now. It's an album that's easy to dip in and out of in a home setting with headphones, but of course for most the real joy for a release like this is in discovering your favourites and adding them into your DJ repertoire.
To the tunes themselves then, and it's clichéd but the selection really does just about represent the full spectrum, as so many claim and fail to do. Samurai boss Geoff Presha is a man now well known to put his money where his mouth is when it comes to scouting new talent, and perhaps the most exciting thing about Code Of Honour is that several tracks represent their producer's debut releases. Take Mercy's "Blackjack" and Paragon's "Heirship" as stellar examples, and both producers who as recently as July I featured on an "unsigned" guest mix for this very site. Arguably Presha's most successful A&R venture to date Tokyo Prose chips in with a couple of lovely piano-led numbers "Reach" and "Raised By Wolves", both vibrant, melodic and nostalgic without being at all cheesy.
From the established crowd highlights include moody Sam KDC track "Sepia" which is perhaps the most outright dark tune to date, and Consequence's "Noisy Spirits In This Soul", a bassline driven rollout number that drives along with military precision, a neat and unexpected departure from his typically more atmosphere-led style. Clearly these aren't just the odd leftover bits that have been tacked onto the Code Of Honour project for the sake of getting as many recognised names on there as possible but rather represent experienced producers continuing to push themselves and the boundaries of their music.
Perhaps the the pick of the bunch is though is the closer, Cern's, "Apparition", a masterfully built up arrangement which I can only imagine took weeks to make (unless is Cern is in fact the new drum & bass moniker of Photek), but though its elements are numerous and complexly interwoven, at no point is it an awkward listen, and somehow at the end of it's 6 and-a-half minute span it still leaves you wanting more, as if there are even more elements to reveal under its surface. It's a fitting way to round of the LP, daring us to wonder what Samurai could pull off next.
From a label family that's already this year given us a new ASC LP, brought Fis to wider attention and countless strong 12"s from its triumvirate of imprints, this is the crowning glory on 2012 for Samurai.
Agree with my selections? Anything I've missed this month? Get in touch with me via email@example.com