Fields: Colours / On Your Own
Utopia Music

Seba: 20 Shades Of Me & You / Never Let You Go (Blu Mar Ten Remix)
Warm Communications

VA: Northern Lights EP
NexGen Music

Xtrah (ft Break, Code Breaker & DRS): 4 Track EP
Symmetry Recordings

It never ceases to amaze the way drum'n'bass artists (like their techno and house counterparts) manage to spin new and endlessly inventive variations on their genre conventions. Ben Wilson reminds us once again of that fact in the material he issues under the Fields name for labels like Mako's Utopia Music label and Break's Symmetry Recordings and, by way of example, his third Fields vinyl outing on Utopia Music. The disc's amazing “Colours” leaps to attention immediately, with Wilson deftly sprinkling its hard stepping pulse with wobbly sub-bass gurgle and a heady, ever-changing flow of cymbal patterns, wooden flute swirls, voice accents, and, the cherry on top, a trippy, high-pitched ping that chimes like clockwork. “On Your Own” (championed by the likes of Break, Calyx, and Goldie) takes the release to a whole other level, Wilson this time rewriting the drum'n'bass rulebook by following a haunting, dystopic intro with four stoked minutes of light-speed bass music skullduggery peppered with an aggressive hip-hop vocal line (“You all alone in these streets, cousin / Every man for thyself in this land we be gunnin'”).

Arriving fast on the heels of Sebastian Ahrenberg's superb Identity full-length (Secret Operations, 2013), Seba's fifth outing on Warm Communications (available in digital and twelve-inch vinyl formats) goes down smoothly indeed, especially when its two tracks stay true to his trademark sound. Classic Seba, “Shades Of Me & You” weaves voice samples (a soulful female singer and a deep male voice intoning “The future…is your time”), synth flourishes, and a deep stepping groove into six minutes of warm, drum'n'bass splendour. The sultry and sensual contributions by the female singer takes the track to a higher level, but Ahrenberg's handling of tension and release is as central to the tune's impact. On the flip, Blu Mar Ten (Chris Marigold and Michael Tognarelli) grabs the reins for a rework of Seba's “Never Let You Go.” An exercise in controlled euphoria, the anthem augments its light-speed pulse with a deadly bass undercurrent and the soulful musings of a female vocalist. Wrap the whole in atmospheric synth touches and the result is one more dynamic example of drum'n'bass artistry with Seba's name attached to it.

The profile of Xtrah (Londoner Yasin Elgohary) has risen in recent days due to his appearance on Goldie's 2011 FabricLive58 CD and via DJ support from the likes of Andy C, Friction, and Calyx, among others. For this four-track EP, Elgohary presents three new tracks along with a Break remix of Xtrah's Symmetry Recordings debut “Cyrax.” The set opens with a prototypical Xtrah belter, “Lost Time,” this one featuring restrained vocals by Codebreaker (“As my mind slips away / As my time slips away”) alongside writhing bass squelch, punchy groove, and spacy synthesizer textures. Slowing the BPM slightly and amping up the funk quotient, Xtrah joins forces with Symmetry head Break for “Always New” and brings along vocalist DRS for the ride. Pair a deep, grime-laden MC turn, sputtering bass throb, and slo-mo pulse and you've got an instant head-turner. In its tight stepping groove and heady production design, the B-side's “Groove Shadow” makes the best possible argument for Xtrah's inventive take on drum'n'bass, especially when the sub-bass and drum details offer such constant stimulation, while Break's panoramic take on “Cyrax” is about as pile-driving as one would expect.

Overseen by D.A (Daniel Clarke) and in operation since 2001, NexGen Music is founded upon the idea of showcasing the depth and diversity of electronic music and its sub-genres (among those listed at its site are dubstep, chill-out, nu-jazz, deep house, and drum'n'bass) and providing a context for experimentation and collaboration between artists. Its latest EP, Northern Lights, makes good on such principles by featuring four diverse cuts by multiple contributors.

The A-side clearly focuses on the jazzier end of the drum'n'bass spectrum. Faible (Stepan Christian, from Vienna, Austria and with NexGen Music since 2011) opens the disc with the sunny title track, a jazzy take that receives a strong boost from the serenading vocal charms of Iriann Joyce. Her voice isn't the only thing worth noting—the acoustic piano, muted trumpet, and synth textures Christian drapes across the track also contribute to its elegant and soulful spirit. And no, “Disco Inferno” isn't a cover of The Trammps' 1976 classic but instead a D.A rework of a high-energy cut by Clart (James Tan) and mSdoS (Chris Kouzellis). The inclusion of jazz guitar riffing gives the tune a George Benson vibe that suggests a better title for it might have been “Breezin',” and the presence of acoustic jazz instrumentation (saxophone, trumpet, piano) makes Clart and mSdoS's cut a natural companion to Faible's.

Physical Illusion (Pavel Kuzmin) and Sonny Crimea open the flip dynamically with “Something About Love,” which is powered by some of the tightest and punchiest drum patterning we've heard in these parts in quite a while. The track's other elements—a female vocal line, electric piano accents, etc.—are appealing, and the tempo contrast between the vocal and the drumming is also arresting, but the roaring groove is clearly the focal point. The final cut, “Mario in Computer Hell” by Reborn, feels like the odd man out in this context: while the track exemplifies the label's commitment to stylistic diversity, its day-glo synth swirls would sound more at home on a Hyperdub single than on Northern Lights, and the absence of drum'n'bass rhythms in the piece puts too much distance between it and the EP's other cuts. Still, three our of four ain't bad.

October 2013