DFRNT: Fading

Alex Cowles's second DFRNT album arrives three years after his dubstep-inflected first, Metafiction. Issued on the Edinburgh, Scotland-based producer's own Echodub imprint, Fading is a heavily chilled-out fusion of deep house and dub-techno seasoned with a sprinkle of garage and elevated by the inclusion of soulful vocals. While the label has regularly issued digital EPs and albums, Fading is the first Echodub has made available in digital and CD formats. A man of many talents, Cowles also runs the net-label Cut, works full-time as lead designer and web developer for a marketing agency, and even produced the release's cover illustration.

In a typical DFRNT track, Cowles embeds wiry bass pulses, soulful male and female vocals, and robust house rhythms within warm vaporous masses of ambient design, resulting in material of understated intensity and dynamism. In the opening “Silent Witness,” a slithering bass figure slowly materializes within an opaque blanket of mist during the track's opening minutes before a pulse tentatively declares itself and helps awaken the surrounding material. Having established his talent for scene-painting, DFRNT promptly turns his attention to the clubbier half of the equation in “El Spirito,” a finely calibrated raver that Cowles powers with an insistently shuffling bounce, and “Everyone Is Moving,” a powerful argument for his DFRNT sound. Suave and silky, the cut deftly unites multiple strands—a female vocalist's sensual voice, dub-techno swirls, a stepping house groove—into an elegant, body-moving whole.

If “Incubus” spotlights DFRNT's funkier side (while also slowing the tempo for its quietly radiant melodic side), “In You Go” finds elements of Burial-styled garage seeping into the otherwise soulful track. Elsewhere, congas add extra propulsion to the house-fueled exuberance of “Deep Into It,” one of the album's most feverish cuts. At times, the dub-techno dimension moves to the forefront (such as during the opening minutes of “Prism”), though generally Cowles strives to fuse multiple styles within a single setting in such a way that the track in question transcends simple genre definition. He's many things, but the album shows Cowles to be a master craftsman first and foremost. While Fading clocks in at an overlong eighty minutes, it's nevertheless a strong collection perfectly coiffed to appeal to devotees of dub-techno and deep house.

September 2012