Lenzman: Looking At The Stars

Released almost concurrently with Metalheadz' excellent Platinum Breakz Vol 4 compilation (on which he also appears), Looking At The Stars is the debut full-length from Dutch producer Teije van Vliet under the Lenzman name. An artist album of impressive artistry and craft, the fifteen-track collection locates Lenzman at the soulful end of the drum'n'bass spectrum, even if a strong hip-hop presence also emerges in a number of places. Vliet is known for featuring vocalists on his productions, and the album, two years in the making, bears that out repeatedly, with guests such as Martyna Baker and Steo appearing on a number of tracks. Multi-instrumentalist John-Louis Riccardi and pianists Makoto and Roel Schrijvers also contribute to the seventy-three-minute album, while Jubei makes his presence felt in the form of an album-closing bonus remix of “Empty Promise.”

It takes little time for the soulful vibe within Lenzman's music to assert itself when the opening cut “Lazy Dub” rolls out a sleek drum'n'bass groove over which a female vocalist's sensual musings drift like smoke trails. Boosted by DRS's assured flow, the swing and swagger of “Just Can't Take” draws as much on jazz as it does hip-hop, and Vliet adds to its appeal by sweetening the track with Rhodes playing and bluesy guitar shadings. With Dan Stezo on vocal duty, “Move & Focus” oozes a bit of a Roni Size / Reprazent vibe on account of its thudding “Brown Paper Bag” groove and acoustic bass line, while “My Tearz” testifies to Vliet's skills in the way it dynamically couples the energized charge of a grinding drum'n'bass pulse with horns and Steo's soulful falsetto. On an album rich in strong material, two cuts in particular stand out thanks to the vocal gifts of Baker, whose stirring voice elevates two tracks, the first, “Paper Faces,” a gorgeous, piano-sprinkled stepper that would do Calibre proud, and, secondly, the entrancing ballad “Anticipate,” which also features some tasty Rhodes playing by Tokyo-based producer Makoto.

Adding to the album's atmospheric character are two interludes of languorous character that feature the reflections of speaking voices (“1978,” “It's Yours”), and Vliet's socially minded consciousness comes through in the dystopic textual content of “Collapse.” The sophistication of the sound design also becomes ever more noticeable as the album progresses, with Vliet enhancing the material with percussion, horns, synthesizers, and keyboards throughout the trip. All told, it's a remarkably accomplished outing from a producer who's previously issued drum'n'bass twelve-inches since 2007 on labels such as Subtitles, Soul:R, Shogun, and, of course, Metalheadz. Any drum'n'bass devotee whose taste leans toward Calibre is sure to find Lenzman as satisfying a proposition, and when a glorious cut such as “Always” achieves lift-off and ascends heavenward, it becomes altogether clear that Vliet's operating at an exceptionally high level (for the artist's own insightfull track-by-track analysis of the album, go here).

June 2014