Digital: Synthesis
Function Records

Though Stephen Carr has made his Digital collaboration project Synthesis available as four distinct digital releases, the material has its greatest impact when experienced as a total sixteen-track package, whether that be in digital form or as a quadruple-vinyl package. The album, Carr's fourth under the Digital name, truly lives up to its name as each collaborator brings something different to the table; at the same time, his involvement from beginning to end gives the album continuity and cohesiveness. To his credit, he didn't create the album long-distance but instead visited each producer to maximize the creative benefits that accrue from collaborating face-to-face. Among those appearing are Drumsound, Spirit, Response, Klute, Total Science, Villem, and Resound.

One of the strongest productions is “Skull” by Digital, Spirit, and Om Unit, which hardly surprises given how innovative the latter's take on the form generally is. In this case, the pooled talents generate a percussion-rich low-rider whose heaving thrust and futuristic swoon distance it from the rest of the pack. A distinguishing characteristic of Digital's sound is its dub dimension, whether it be in the form of a bass pulse or echo effect. “Stolen Desire,” one of the set's multiple collabs with Spirit, is a classic drum'n'bass roller, but it's impossible to ignore how severely dubbed-out it is, and though the Digital-Kiat workout “War” is one of the collection's funkier cuts, it's bass line is undeniably drenched in dub, too.

Much of the set oozes muscle and high energy, a typical case being “Jungle Jaw,” a rampaging slice of jungle-inflected thunder Carr cooked up with Nomine; “Lightworks,” a blissful belter from Digital and his long-time mate Klute, and “Bug Eye,” a fierce throwdown from Carr and Villem, also generate considerable heat. With Drumsound & Bassline Smith aboard, “Fire” inaugurates the album's second half with a seething ferocity characteristic of the genre. It's not uncommon for tracks to bleed over from drum'n'bass to jungle—see Digital-and-Nomine's blazer “No Sleep” and Digital-Sight Unseen's clattering “On My Head”—or more typically stake out a middle ground between them.

Some tracks encompass multiple genres, as exemplified by Digital and Response's “Lost Life” in its entrancing fusion of industrial, electronica, and, of course, drum'n'bass. “Rise,” a collab with Mad Vibes and Audio Habitat works a greasy dancehall skank into its lean frame, whereas “Catch” brings a nice change-up to the project in adding Sofi Mari's soulful vocal stylings to Digital and Total Science's chilled swizzle. It was an inspired move on Carr's part to work with so many different creative partners on the album, and one comes away from Synthesis well impressed by the diversity of its contents.

April 2016