January is a fairly joyless month, traditionally - the weather's rubbish and everybody's still hungover from last year. So what better boost to our collective mental health than a month's worth of top-quality drum & bass action?
10. Serial Killaz – Rude Boy Style / Some Signal (Cheeky – CHEEKY003)
And heeere we go, as Serial Killaz ease us in gently with some trademark good-time Jamaican vibes on their own Cheeky imprint. Rude Boy Style is a smooth, bouncy re-rub of a Cutty Ranks classic, his unmistakeable vocals riding tight-as-you-like drums, warm dub bass and some skanking rhythmic shifts – proof, if any was needed, that slickly-produced, reggae-infused jump-up ain't going out of fashion any time soon. It's backed with the dirtier, scuttling ragga business of Some Signal, which balances treated horns and melodic guitar with hands-in-the-air jungle samples, clipped amens and groovy dancefloor-ready bass. Ideal for raising junglists' spirits from the January doldrums.
9. Lynx / Atom - SM010 EP (Sonorous – SONOROUS010R)
Hayze's Sonorous Music has been a home for many skilled artists, including Octane & DLR, Dan Habarnam, June Miller and Bungle, and they start off their year with a varied, sophisticated package featuring Lynx and Atom. The incomparable Lynx is on some kind of twisted funk tip here, peppering dark roller Horror Ball with squashed haunted house brass and zombie movie sound effects, while his remix of Atom's Dolly sounds like a bastardised 60s spy theme with some sci-fi bells and whistles thrown in for good measure. Not that anything on a Lynx production is really "thrown in" - you know that he's taken obscene amounts of care with every element. Atom's contributions to the EP are just as classy, if utterly different – the original mix of Dolly is a spacey head-nodder which evolves subtly and deliberately, while Cold Water is a sumptuous half-time lullaby, full of delicate pads, vaguely 80s-sounding (in a good way) synths and cool-as-funk sub-bass. Top-quality work from all involved.
8. Need For Mirrors – Methxx EP (Metalheadz – METHXX01)
Need For Mirrors had an incredible 2011, a year in which everything they touched seemed to turn to low-slung, clinically precise black gold, and they're not wasting any time now that 2012 has arrived. This four-track EP once again shows their mastery of the sly, sinister, pared-down end of contemporary drum & bass, and although they may not be tinkering much with their established formula, why worry when the results are this good? If it ain't broke and all that. From the smooth-yet-rugged electrical drone of Columbia to the unsettling D.F.T.F (complete with menacing vocal contribution from DRS) via Odd Future's agile industrial beats and the tribal shuffle of Sharp Teeth, we're left in no doubt that Need For Mirrors' plans for low-end domination are only just beginning.
7. Smooth – Blinded by the Light EP (Viper – VPR041)
As much as our more critical impulses might want us to turn up our noses, there's something about Smooth's enormous, brash, everything-including-the-kitchen-sink approach on this EP that still hits a certain spot. Pick of the tracks are Cosmos, with its epic intro and duelling space organs, aggro clown-stepper Cyber Funk and deliriously OTT closer From Within, which manages to pack in an ominous voice-over, some opera samples, a tidal wave of bass and occasionally too many beats to keep track of. And if you think that sounds silly, that's 'cos it is. Some of the other tunes, particularly the title track and the Shaz Sparks-assisted Shifting Sands (Part 2) stray a little too far into the territory of crossover cheese, but forgiveness is what makes us human, so we can overlook that. Blinded by the Light is big, and not terribly clever, but deliver its contents to a packed dancefloor at peak time and it'll definitely do the damage.
6. Arkaik – Trauma EP (Diffrent – DIFF011D)
Arkaik is a fairly new kid on the block, but he's already making some substantial waves and promises very big things. Having signed to the highly respected Diffrent Music, this is his first EP with them, and it's pretty darn tasty. The four tough tracks share a generally pensive mood, but there's a playful looseness to the arrangements that stops them from becoming too po-faced. The title track layers low growls and reverberating effects over a fantastically clipped drum break, Headskill brings oceanic bass pressure and an appropriately confrontational vocal spot from MCXL, and Vertebrae is a down and dirty collaboration with Jekyll whose rhythms flit between funky scuttle and agile half-step. Finally the thudding half-time Turncoat stomps in to round things off, all pulsating bass, lonely synth washes and what could be the sound of a giant casually snapping peoples' bones.
5. Y2D – Idolatry EP (Lifestyle Recordings – LFS018)
Lifestyle are a relatively young but very impressive label straight out of South London, who count eleven8, Dominic Ridgway and Macca among their affiliates, and Y2D's Idolatry EP shows their continuing knack for excellent quality control. Its four tracks show off an admirable range of moods and styles, from the tech-y to the introspective, and mark the young Glaswegian out as a producer to watch. Opener Idolatry builds a patchwork of sparse beats, snatched vocal snippets, bleached-out whooshes and echoing clicks, while Manhattan is a deep, crackling stepper which uses a lonely female voice and carefully-placed reverb to great effect. Salomes Dance is on the gnarlier side of life, opening in deceptively light and airy mood before unleashing a corrugated fuzz bassline to offset spacious synth work, and closer Smoke and Mirrors is a precision-engineered roller, bass rising and falling over sculpted beats and atmospheric white noise. A very strong release.
4. Andy Pain and Z Connection – Broken Silence EP (Respect Records – RFDD015)
Andy Pain and Z Connection are part of the ever-expanding Saint Petersburg massive and this is their first release on Russian label Respect Records, which has previously put out music by artists like Nuage and Mr Sizef. The duo are taking no prisoners here, with an EP of militant mayhem custom-built for maximum speaker slayage. Of particular note are Jerry, which keeps its beats as light-footed as possible to make way for a clunking Death Star of a bassline, and Backwater, a crafty sideways wobbler full of glitchy edits and swift bass-y kicks to the head. Intelligent filth for those with a brain behind their screwfaces.
3. Roygreen & Protone – Roygreen & Protone EP (Soundtrax – FILM042)
We've been giving these two Austrians a lot of love here at Knowledge, and if their previous output wasn't enough to justify it (although it was), this new EP on the idiosyncratic Soundtrax label should definitely seal the deal. Demonstrating a virtuosity and sophistication that belie the relative youth of their partnership, this is deep, melodic liquid drum and bass at its finest. Things are bookended by the more rugged, reductive sounds of Contrivance and Rubrik, whose stripped-back arrangements really bring out the subtle detail in the bass and the drum programming, but the heart and soul of the EP are the frankly gorgeous Liquid Coxhina and Gone So Long. Liquid Coxhina's jazzy ornamentation evokes vintage Calibre, while Gone So Long is one of those haunting tunes that demands you drop whatever you're doing and listen to it, its understated piano and vocals packed with barely-contained emotion.
2. June Miller – Snapcase / Walls Of Jericho (Critical Modulations - MODULE010)
OK, time to bring out the big guns. Dutch duo June Miller have been responsible for some of the most interesting, cinematic and moody drum and bass and dubstep of the last few years, with releases on Deep Soul Music, Horizons and Renegade Hardware, to name but a few. This new single on Critical offshoot Modulations finds them in severely aggro mood, delivering a pair of dnb WMDs that manage to out-Noisia Noisia in terms of sheer apocalypticness (you know you're through the looking glass when you need to make up new words to describe something). Snapcase is the (slightly) more restrained of the two, its calculated bass snarls clawing at the listener from a cage of deft beats, but Walls of Jericho is simply monstrous. Heralded by portentous horns, rising tides of sub-bass and a tease of drums, it recedes mischievously into nothingness before dropping into a cataclysm of intricate beats, deranged, abrupt edits and low frequencies that erupt in your face like volcanoes. Not for the faint of heart.
1 - Break / Xtrah – They're Wrong / Cyrax (Symmetry – SYMM010)
Aaaaaaand at number one is this absolute beaut of a single from Break's own Symmetry imprint. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, Break's elegant, soulful They're Wrong is a flawless piece of work, from the dreamlike intro, with its birdsong and bells, to the perfectly-judged vocal, snatches of piano and a drum break so smooth and precise that it's pretty much edible. It's been said before and it'll be said again – nobody does it like Break. The flip comes courtesy of up-and-coming Londoner Xtrah, fresh from appearances on Ram, Proximity and Subtitles, and it's a banger and no mistake. With its off-kilter drums and a deformed mutant of a bassline which sounds like it's this close to ripping out of your speakers and massacring everyone in the room, it manages what a select few producers manage, which is to keep things simultaneously clean and dirty, and to reign in the nastiness just enough to maintain a funky edge. Two solid gold tracks that should find their way into the collections of home listeners and discerning DJs alike.
3. Subwave – Subwave (Metalheadz – METHLP014)
What with the Methxx EP, dBridge's new single (which narrowly missed out on a place in our top ten) and this debut artist album from Russian wünderkind Subwave, January has been a pretty good month for Metalheadz. Subwave has turned many a head in his time, with releases on such heavy hitters as Shogun, Critical and Hospital, and this eclectic but very consistent album encapsulates his unique appeal, running the gamut from deep minimalism (Wheel of Time) to trippy euphoria (Senses) via pulsating, tribal future jungle (Aeeeh). There are even a few excursions into techno, with the lush, Bop-esque Tonal, to mix things up on the bpm front. With technical fluency and atmosphere to spare, Subwave is an assured collection by a very skilled and distinctive artist. Oh, we think SBTRKT might want his mask back, though...
2. Various – Internal Affairs 2 (Horizons Music - HZNCD007)
This compilation from Horizons collects twelve ice-cold cuts from a plethora of cutting-edge talent, including Pessimist, Clarity, June Miller and Blocks. The mood throughout is hoods-up and heads-down, with itchy beats, gutter bass and cybernetic wobbles the order of the day. While not every track is one hundred per cent essential, those that are – like Sunchase's bleepy, whirring Warm Space, half-time ribcage-botherer Full Force by Atmospherix, the restless glitch of Clarity's Headrush and the sinister creep of Undercurrents by Blocks – must not be slept upon.
1. Justice and Metro – 839 Remixes (Modern Urban Jazz – MJAZZLP06)
The remix album, if not done properly, can just be a case of lazy musicians using the hip producers du jour to gain a bit of extra publicity, rather than a genuinely inspired musical exercise. This collection of remixes of Justice and Metro's acclaimed album 839 is quite emphatically not one of those albums. Each of the chosen producers, including Dominic Ridgway, Lo:Tek and Fushura, have done what true remixers are supposed to do – take the music apart and re-assemble it into something utterly different, something that respects the original art yet sheds a completely new light upon it. So we have glitch-hoppy steppers (Lo:Tek's re-rub of Human Thinking), melodic rollers (PFM's mix of Touch Feel) and emotive atmospherics (the Jason Os remix of Solomon) rubbing shoulders with wonky electronica (Caps Lock's remix of Knuckles) and even deep house (the Deep Blue mix of Playloop) in a melange of tempos and styles that, while very different, manage to compliment each other and form a cohesive whole. If you're intrigued and thrilled by electronic music's endless potential to evolve, warp and re-contextualise, this album is essential listening.
Words: Stefan Mohamed
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