Rob Sparx: Trooper
Z Audio

A fixture of the dance and DJ scenes since the ‘90s, Rob Sparx brings ample experience and (being a double bass, piano, and guitar player) chops to his debut album Trooper. Having been known variously for his drum'n'bass, electro-house, and trance productions, Sparx has lately turned his attention to dubstep—a not altogether surprising move, given that he grew up around Croydon and became familiar with some of the scene's key players.

A loon's warble situates “Fixed Up” in the countryside but that all changes two minutes in when a pounding dubstep-inflected breaks pattern pulls it towards the nightclub. “Black Sheep” then prods the album in an oft-serene deep house direction, replete with soulful vocal shout-outs but it's the crisp drum attack that makes the strongest impression. It takes but two tracks for one to realize that Sparx has a way with beats. They're tight, whether they're of the dubstep (“Liquid Soul”), house (“Black Sheep”), or dub persuasion (“Messiah Dub”). In viral tracks like “Bloodbath” and the wobbly title track, the snares resonate with a powerful snap and crack, and the kick drum thumps like a blow to the chest. Another thing that distinguishes his material is that, although a given track may center on a particular style, Sparx finds a way to let other influences seep in. “Stroller” may be a classic example of serpentine dubstep, for example, yet traces of dub and even drum'n'bass push their way into the mix as well. “Liquid Soul” likewise leans in dubstep's direction, despite the fact that Sparx slips a vocal sample lifted from “How Sweet It Is” into its middle, while “The Funk,” in fact, bridges soul and drum'n'bass more than the titular genre. Interestingly, the two rootsy dub tracks, “Messiah Dub” and “The Prayer Re-Rub,” are about the only ones that hew to a single genre. The hour-long album sags a bit towards the end album when a couple of dusty drum'n'bass tracks appear (“So Good,” “Wildlife”) but otherwise Trooper makes a strong case for Sparx's abilities. One other downside to the album is that its eclecticism makes it hard to associate him with a particular genre but one imagines that that's exactly the way he wants it.

June 2009