Seba: Identity
Secret Operations

Anyone questioning the viability of drum'n'bass as a genre in 2013 need look no further than Seba's Identity. Just as leading techno and house producers continually find ways to work imaginative variations on their 4/4 rhythms, so too does the superior drum'n'bass artist, of which Seba is assuredly one. The ten-track album, the follow-up to 2008's Return to Forever and Sebastian Ahrenberg's first full-length on his own Secret Operations imprint, showcases the Swedish producer's range and, yes, identity, musical and otherwise. The man's high-level production skills are on full display, as is a fine-tuned sensitivity to track sequencing and contrast.

“Can't Describe” starts the hour-long album off on a high note with a lightspeed groove that Ahrenberg boosts with soulful vocal interjections and a thick synthesizer swarm, then follows it with the voiceover-laden title cut, which finds him pontificating at length on creators and imitators while a bass-heavy snarl stirs restlessly underneath. Things change up stylistically when the third cut, “Madness,” pairs a soulful lead vocal by a male singer with a piano-based backing that opts for a smoother and sophisticated vibe more than a raw and lethal one. Also notable is the fact that the vocal part doesn't sound like a mere add-on; instead, Seba treats the singing and backing track as integral parts of the whole and strikes a well-considered balance between them. In a different way, “Could This Be Love” and “Midas” also mix things up by focusing as much (even more, perhaps) on Detroit techno as drum'n'bass, whereas the closing “What's Your Fantasy” gives Seba's sound an acid-techno makeover. Fashioned as a nod to Larry ‘Mr Fingers' Heard, “Say You Love Me” subtly hints at the connection in the smooth acoustic piano and synth textures that Seba drapes across the track's slamming groove.

Naturally, there's no shortage of high-energy cuts on offer. “Balance of Power” brings the thunder in a grinding, bass-heavy epic of beat thrust and kineticism, while Swedish vocalist Josefine Jinder add to the shoegaze-like roar of “Too Much Too Soon.” The vocalist whose silken croon elevates the euphoric “Nothing Can Replace” calls to mind Tracey Thorn and, relatedly, the drum'n'bass style she and Ben Watt explored on the group's ‘90s albums Walking Wounded and Tempermental. It's interesting that, though Ahrenberg's discography includes a huge number of Seba EPs and singles extending back to 1998, Identity is only his second full-length. It's certainly possible to hear it, however, as a culmination of sorts, a mature statement that years of hard work and artistic development have brought him to.

March 2013