Mikal: Wilderness

Having released singles and EPs since 2007 on labels such as Utopia Music, Sound Trax, Warm Communications, and, of course, Metalheadz, Mikal (Mikael Willett) is more than ready to take on the album-length challenge. With assistance from fellow partners-in-crime Chimpo, Xtrah, Break, RIOT, and Sophie Barker, the Swedish-born, Bristol-based producer shows throughout the sixteen-cut opus that he can craft a drum'n'bass track with the best of them.

Much of it's pitched at the level of controlled fury, and the emphasis is generally on low-end sonic frequencies (consider, as a representative example, the lethal snarl of “Segunda”). No small amount of cranial damage is done by bruisers such as “The Ruff Life” and “No One Else,” and it's definitely possible that more than a few listeners will come away from the listen feeling a little brain-addled.

Wilderness begins on a high with Barker emoting through “Patterns,” her soft, almost Dido-like delivery standing in marked contrast to the raw bottom end sculpted by Mikal. Elsewhere on the vocal front, MCs and soul samples amplify the album's raw vibe, and in certain tracks Mikal nudges the material into tribal and dub zones, with jungle a repeated reference point.

One of the album's standout tracks, “Help Me,” parts company with much of the collection in spotlighting a more restrained side of the producer. Yes, there's still a heavy low-end in place, but Mikal threads orchestral strings in amongst the customary elements to strengthen the atmospheric track's seductive allure. As different is “JB's Groove” for the way Mikal transplants a signature Godfather of Soul funk pulse into a drum'n'bass context.

Certainly no one can complain about being short-changed: Wilderness tops out at about eighty minutes, and as such is about as complete a portrait of Mikal circa 2016 as there could conceivably be. Those with less time to spare, on the other hand, might have preferred a leaner fifty- to sixty-minute presentation, and a less generously minded critic could fault Mikal for creating music that's less genre-advancing than that produced by forward-thinkers such as Om Unit and Lenzman. But one suspects that Metalheadz devotees will nevertheless find Mikal's offering much to their liking.

March 2016