Fractals: Forward in Time EP
Kolectiv, Dexta & Mauoq: The Roots EP
Frederic Robinson: Vamp EP
What we've got here are three new drum'n'bass EPs from artists on Killscreen, Dispatch, and Blu Mar Ten, though it would be more accurate to describe Frederic Robinson's as belonging to the genre in only the most tangential manner.
First up is Forward in Time, a four-track outing from UK-based Jim Wheatley under the Fractals guise. Birthed in his Manchester studio, the EP's polished material shows that Wheatley's got skills in abundance: opening the set in fine style, “Dark Matter” batters razor-sharp breaks with gritty synth stabs and an echo-laden “Technology” voice accent, before “Ego” threads voice samples of its own into a furious, bass-throbbing groove whose attack is a tad reminiscent of early Photek. “Electron Dub” dials the intensity level down slightly for a scenic detour into atmospheric dub-reggae, after which “In Time” raises the temperature with a minimalistic neurofunk workout to bring the twenty-three-minute release to a tidy close. Things happen fast in the Fractal universe, with each track presenting an unmitigated stream of stimulation that challenges the dizzied listener to stay oriented.The Roots EP unites the talents of Kolectiv (Simon Cordell, Sam Midgley, and Kerim Serter), Dexta (Chris Royle), and Italian DJ-producer Mauoq for a twenty-four-minute package of four tracks (two of them digital exclusives). In addition to being their first release on Dispatch, the release is also dedicated to the memory of Kerim's father Emre, who recently passed away. Representative of the EP is “Lemonade,” which augments a tight, stripped-down groove with staccato stabs and a marauding bass presence; that the crew has more than a few tricks up its collective sleeve is shown, however, by an abrupt shift to a half-time tempo that occurs midway through. “Orange Roots” similarly opts for a skeletal beat pattern of dub-funk character that allows ample space for spooked-out textural details to arise, while “Temper Glass” does much the same, albeit with a heavier hand. With so many people involved in the production process, one might expect the material to be packed with detail, which it is though not overbearingly so. If anything, the producers have designed the tracks with care to ensure that lots of elbow room is allowed for sounds of various kinds—ominous voice samples, tribal percussive accents, bass smears, brooding synth textures, and the like—to surface.
As stated, Frederic Robinson's Vamp EP distances itself considerably from the drum'n'bass form, despite the fact that the release appears on the Blu Mar Ten imprint. Adding to its unconventional character, the twenty-six-minute set opens with an ambient-styled remix by Synkro of the title track of Robinson's Mixed Signals album and closes with two versions (one live) of a track that's got more in common with Steve Reich than Goldie. Of course unconventional doesn't mean unsatisfying, and in that regard Robinson's material is satisfying indeed.
Synkro's nine-minute “Mixed Signals” treatment emerges out of a New Age-styled fog, with the music's crystalline surfaces giving off a shimmering glow. But the track doesn't stay becalmed for long, as a snappy beat pattern kicks in a third of the way through, a move that in turn acts as a nice contrast to the burbling array of piano sprinkles and vocal murmurs that otherwise adorn the dreamscape. Without sacrificing anything in the atmosphere department, the feverish floor-filler “Wheels” relocates the EP within ecstatic house territory by animating the cut with a high-spirited bounce and ornamenting it with a wiry bass pulse and flickering vocal effects. Robinson takes a final dramatic left turn in the form of “Vamp Till Ready,” which suggests some heady mashup of Music For Eighteen Musicians (in the insistently repeating strings that come at the listener in waves), Indian music (in the percussive details), and drum'n'bass (in the frenetic beat pattern that accompanies the other elements). At EP's end a live version of same appears that's obviously similar to the original yet departs from it, too, in subtle ways (the pluck of an acoustic guitar is one of the more dominant sounds, for example), presumably due to Robinson's propensity for working homemade instruments into his live sets. While it might seem a tad redundant to include a live version on the EP, it makes sense in this case, given that Blu Mar Ten plans to release a mini-album of one of his live shows later this year. The live version of “Vamp Till Ready” (which will be included on that mini-album) thus acts as a promising harbinger of the release to come.