Bracken: High Passes
Revealing Hood member Chris Adams to be the man behind the Bracken mask is maybe not the best move, given the kinds of expectations the disclosure might engender for listeners conversant with the band's music. Put simply, High Passes is a recording ideally broached on its own terms, with no prior associations clouding and complicating its reception. Issued on CD and digital formats and as a sumptuous double vinyl set, the ambitious thirteen-track collection presents a compelling argument for Adams as a beatmaker and electronic music producer of exceptional command; in addition, it documents an omnivorous and versatile sensibility in full flight, one capable of tackling any number of stylistic challenges.
That we're in territory rather unlike Hood's is apparent the moment “Slow Release” inaugurates the release with a foreboding blend of smeared voices, metallic percussion, and lurching rhythms. Subtly claustrophobic, the cut suggests some tangential connection to instrumental hip-hop and garage, and the listener might be forgiven for hearing some faint echo of Burial emerging from its late-night urban ambiance. The dense psychedelia of “Ghostly,” on the other hand, has more in common with Prefuse 73 than anything Hyperdub-related, while “Guiding Hand” undergirds its trippy, pastoral-dub vibe with a skanky groove suggestive of something Carlton Barrett might have laid down as a Wailer. Though short at two minutes, the slow-burning boom-bap of “Invest In Aquacar” sticks around long enough to evoke a sun-drenched, beachside afternoon in LA.
High Passes sometimes flirts with standard song form, but for the most part Adams' focus is on multi-layered instrumental constructions where a feathery vocal element occasionally surfaces. If echoes of Hood do arise, they're probably most audible in the pastoral-folk melancholia of “Masked Headlands” and “Ten Years”; that being said, the recurring touchstones for the recording are largely instrumental boom-bap, downtempo hip-hop, and dub.
The album is distinguished by its broad scope, yet it's important to emphasize that while it is possible to hear traces of other artists on High Passes, it's not an exercise in pastiche. Bracken's soundworld is very much its own, Adams having internalized his influences and alchemized them into something very much his own. The artist himself recently said, “I wanted to create a record that sounds like my favourite mixtapes, somehow connected but with a broad diversity of sounds and ideas.” It's an especially apt comment, given how effectively High Passes approximates the stylistic diversity of the typical mixtape without sacrificing the kind of cohesiveness one associates with a solo artist's recording.