Blocks and Escher: Moods / Razor
Dabs: The Constant EP
DBR UK: Say What You Want EP
Mako: Back To The Source EP
Mako (feat. Throwing Snow, Detail, and Sine): Mako Presents The Truthseekers EP
Paradox & Nucleus: The Return Of... / Analogue Life
Mako's in particularly dynamic form on his Metalheadz outing, though having three fellow truthseekers along for the ride—Detail, Sine, and Throwing Snow, to be exact—might have something to do with it. This is the first full outing on the label for Mako, aka Bristol, UK-based and Utopia Music head Stephen Redmore, though it specifically appears by way of Meth XX, a fertile label forum designed to give new Metalheadz artists a vehicle for bold self-expression. “Tell Me Something,” Mako's blistering throwdown with Ukraine producer Detail, is the EP's prime cut, though the other two are hardly slouches. On a purely sonic level, “Tell Me Something” might first catch the ear for the piercing shotgun crack of its snare, but the tune as a whole is mesmerizing. Mako's at the top of his game here, with the producer packing the tune's six minutes with a lethal mix of kinetic beat thrust, bass throb, cryptic voice samples, and brooding synth tones. With Utopia music's Sine (Al Schmifto) in tow, Redmore rolls out a stomping neurofunk groove for “The Gully,” which, though more straightforward and less creatively inventive than “Tell Me Something,” hits hard with an anvil-like intensity. The EP regains its higher creative footing when Houndstooth artist Throwing Snow (UK producer Ross Tones) and Mako pool their considerable resources for the headspinner “Ju-Ken,” which pulls into its trippy, rapid-fire universe rave, garage, and jungle. It's immensely satisfying to witness such fearless and visionary creators hellbent on carving out new forms.
A natural complement to the Metalheadz release is Mako's first solo EP for Dispatch Recordings, whose four tracks (one a digital bonus) hold up splendidly well, too. The opening cut, “We Could Help Each Other,” sees Redmore joining forces with Villem (Andrew Wilson) on a track that, in a nice sleight-of-hand move, begins with forty seconds of serene ambient washes before the beats kick in to recast it as a belter replete with soulful vocal accents and rich percussive detail (hand drums even). Things happen fast in the Mako world, with the cut alternating between ambient, soul, and jungle-inflected episodes as if it were the most natural thing in the world. His heavy side comes to the fore during the rugged “Planet Physical,” which sees bass smears and wicked breaks ablaze in a thunderous, five-minute assault on delicate sensibilities. Like “We Could Help Each Other,” “Do You Know What I'm Saying” opens softly, with this time shimmering synth tones the calm before the inevitable storm hits. With a fidgety, intricate flow of chopped breaks leading the charge, the ride's less punishing than “Planet Physical” but no less gripping. Even the digital-only bonus “There's Nothing We Can't Be” proves rewarding, even if it's soulfully atmospheric makeup is a tad less ferocious than the other tracks on the EP. Think of Back To The Source as twenty-two minutes of prime Mako hellfire.
Also new from Dispatch are four-track EPs by Italian producer Dabs and the Luton-based trio DBR UK, the former an unfussy and tightly focused set featuring Cern and the latter a more ambitious release that stretches drum'n'bass into other orbits. Dabs' The Constant, his third EP for the label, features two exclusive and original productions plus fresh takes on two previously issued tracks. Dabs starts things off by reworking “Objection” into a foreboding, take-no-prisoners roller whose elastic groove thunders and growls with single-minded purpose. The tune's not just about groove, though, as echoing voices and high-pitched bleeps surface, too. As atmospheric is the first of two Cern collabs, “Alter Ego,” an even more lethal, rough'n'ready stomper than the opener, while the Villem & Mcleod's remix of “Hell Rose” oozes a rather soulful quality, thanks to a female vocalist's sensual cooing, swirling synth touches, and a punchy bass line that stands out with clarity from the pulsating surround. The digital exclusive “I Can Feel” caps the EP with a motorik and mystical workout whose lazer-focused swing is consistent with the release's other cuts.
A better-than-average set that deserves credit for aiming high and not settling for already trodden ground, DBR UK's Say What You Want presents four tracks, two of them digital exclusives and two featuring vocal support from Amanda Seal. In keeping with its title, “Paranoia” plunges into the dark side with an ominous two-tone figure leading the charge before rolling out a serious, neck-slapping pattern and eventually a Zawinul-esque keyboard figure. Rather than perpetuate the dark tone of the opener, the title track exudes hope and uplift when it adds Seal's deliciously soulful expressions to the group's lightspeed beatwork. That high point is difficult to match, but the digital exclusives that follow make a pretty convincing stab at doing so: the inner city jam “Kick'n Ya Door” changes things up dramatically by repeatedly strafing a raw, low-end groove with siren bleeps and a rap-tinged vocal sample, while Seal returns for the DBR UK-Structured collab “The Storm,” a largely atmospheric treatment that achieves ultimate liftoff when the singer's “Lift me up” pleas surface with dynamic force.
Finally, two other recent twelve-inch releases for Metalheadz hit hard, too, though that shouldn't surprise given the involvement of Paradox and Nucleus on one and Blocks and Escher on the other. No one should be surprised either by the level of craft exemplified by the two-tracker by Paradox (Dev Paradox) and Nucleus (Dave Sims), considering that Sims's production history with Paradox begin in 1996. Even before they got together, the two were making names for themselves, with Sims's DJing career begun in 1986 and Paradox's dating back to 1989 when he formed Mixrace with DJ Trax. The thirteen-minute release opens with “The Return Of…,” a brooding flamethrower whose lethal android groove dishes out a stutter-funk breakbeat pattern and a bass undertow guaranteed to pull even the strongest swimmer under. In this primal workout, the focus is clearly on the bottom end, with melody—the repeated buzz of synth swarms and gurgle aside—an incidental part of the equation. That percussive emphasis remains firmly in place on the flip side's “Analogue Life,” which coolly lays out its kinetic funk pattern with patience and circumspection before metallic clatter enters halfway through to add to the track's plentiful array of spooky noisemaking and voice textures.
Similar in format, tone, and length is Blocks and Escher's debut twelve-inch for Metalheadz, which makes for a natural companion to the Paradox and Nucleus outing. But though the A-side's “Moods” rolls out a heavy breakbeat pattern that wouldn't sound out of place on the Paradox and Nucleus release, Blocks and Escher individuate their track by aromatically burnishing its rolling groove with muted trumpet. That's not all that happens, however, as a middle section finds the aptly titled tune abruptly morphing into a punishing throwdown, briefly pulling back for a moment of calm, and then plunging once again into the inferno. Even more evocative is “Razor,” which opens its eyes to a devastated landscape before horror ensues in the form of blistered breaks and a general sense of mayhem and destruction. Death feels like it could come at any moment as the troop cautiously advances into the heart of a bombed-out war zone. It's anything but bucolic, but give Blocks and Escher full marks for the vividness of their scene-painting.