Cyrus (Random Trio): From the Shadows

VA: Box of Dub
Soul Jazz

Tectonic caused deserved commotion in these parts late last year with its double-disc Tectonic Plates compilation/DJ mix and now serves up an equally enticing collection of gritty dubstep from Random Trio's Cyrus (J. Flynn). Unlike Burial, Cyrus doesn't create a new genre with his debut album but instead offers a refined and sometimes surprisingly stripped-down take on the existing template, one that also serves as a great entry-point for the listener keen on getting schooled in the style's bass-heavy physics. Though the mood is generally bleak and dramatic, the material is so seductive one won't mind being pulled into its oil-black swamp. Cyrus's tracks introduce themselves innocently before breaking limbs with lethal snare cracks, pounding kick drums, and lumbering bass wobble.

“Gutter” begins From the Shadows with an ominous, vaguely Eastern-sounding theme played alternately by quasi-melodica and pan pipes draped over a muscular dubstep rhythm and tabla accents. Cyrus's skeletal opener is comparatively uptempo for the genre and the rumbling bass is more subliminal with the accent on the gunshot crack of the snare and the hefty punch of the kick drum. “Indian Stomp” (also included on Tectonic Plates and the Children of Men soundtrack) pushes that Eastern vibe even further by juxtaposing the undulating voice of a female singer with urgent beat thrust. A wooden flute and Jamaican voice lend “Rasta From” a woozy, exotic ambiance, while Cyrus tighten the noose on “Calm Before the Storm” where foreboding synth themes, alarm tones, and hazy crowd noise collide. “Crying Game” is perhaps as quintessential a Cyrus track as there can be, with tripped-out flares acting as ominous melodic counterpoint to the marauding, snare-snapping shuffle oozing underfoot. Only "Mindgames" disappoints, as its too-sluggish tempo briefly slows the disc and, furthermore, hints at the rigidity to which the genre could succumb as more and more passengers get on board. Even so, From the Shadows is probably as representative a document of dubstep circa 2007—if one more sometimes more lugubrious than most—as one might hope to find.

Following two 2006 Digital Mystikz twelves, Soul Jazz Records' exemplary Box of Dub compilation presents all-newly recorded exclusives by numerous dubstep ambassadors: Skream, Burial, Kode 9, Scuba, Digital Mystikz, Rhythm'n'Sound vocalist Paul St Hilaire collaborating with Sub Version (Jay Haze and Michal Ho), King Midas Sound, and Tayo. Anyone wondering what all the fuss is about, can start right here. This hour-long set includes enough wobbly sub-bass and loping rhythms to keep both devotee and neophyte satisfied while also providing a scenic overview of the genre's stylistic range; some tracks lean more towards classic dub (Digital Mystikz's “I Wait,” Tayo Meets Acid Rockers Uptown's “Dread Cowboy”) than dubstep, while a couple hardly fit either category (Scuba's “Subaqueous” may be as bass-heavy as dubstep but the tune's rhythms are closer to lazy funk than dubstep).

Having generated firestorms with their respective Hyperdub album debuts, Burial's and Kode 9's contributions are the ones most eagerly anticipated, and their innovative cuts don't disappoint. Kode 9's “Magnetic City” lashes out propulsively amidst a shape-shifting field of voices, claps, synth sputter, and wheezing melodicas, while Burial's crackle-drenched “Unite” offsets its uptempo two-step strut with the melancholic mood established by jazzy piano and bass lines and soulful vocal exhalations. Sub Version's tracks are similarly experimental and boundary-pushing: Paul St. Hilaire's vocal floats confidently above a spacey mix of woozy bass, thrumming percussive patterns, and electronic whooshes and sputter in “The Light” while the even spacier “Rise Up” shatters the vocals into fragments and scatters them across a hazy grid of acidy bass and static. Kevin Martin (aka The Bug) and Roger Robinson King also head out for more daring territory in their brooding Midas Sound cut “Surround Me.” Mention must be made of Skream's masterful appearances: favouring a clean production style, “Sub Island” weds a pulsating bass throb to a slinky funk-dub groove in the former and then brightens the heavy bottom end with tinkles from a dusty piano and assorted other keyboard accents; perhaps even more arresting is “Irie” where a trumpet-styled fanfare theme crosses paths with a tight bass-drum slam.

August 2007