Throwing Snow: Mosaic

The fact that fabric-associated Houndstooth issued textura's 2013 top album pick, Soul Music by Special Request (aka Leeds-based producer Paul Woolford), could cause unfair expectations to be brought to bear on the work of other artists on the label. But even though the debut album by UK producer Ross Tones, who operates solo under the Throwing Snow and Alight aliases and with vocalist Augustus Ghost as Snow Ghosts, can't help but be heard with Woolford's dazzling collection still fresh in memory, Mosaic holds up perfectly well on its own. And if Mosaic seems especially accomplished, that's perhaps due part to the fact that Tones issued a number of Throwing Snow releases prior to it, namely the Pathfinder EP (on Houndstooth) and releases on Local Action, Sneaker Social Club, and his own Snowfall.

Like Pathfinder, Mosaic doesn't fixate on any one genre but instead grazes upon multiple fields, with the fifty-one-minute whole held together more by Tone's governing sensibility than anything else. Folk, garage, funk, house, electronica, and jungle constitute some of the many reference points in eleven tracks that merge the playing of real instruments with samples. Myriad elements are stitched together to form cohesive song-like structures, with the presence of live vocalists on many tracks the glue drawing the instrumental strands together. No better example of that approach appears on the collection than the head-turning “The Tempest,” where the entrancing voice of Adda Kaleh acts as a stabilizing center for the swirling flux of percussive flourishes, beats, and strings that unspools underneath it (her singing also helps prevent the jungle-inflected backing on “Maera” from splintering apart). The rather Bjork-like delivery Kid A brings to “Hypnotise” also accomplishes much the same on a comparatively darker plunge into emotive electro-funk balladry.

Tones' Throwing Snow tracks impress in multiple ways: for song constructions that, while complex, never lose sight of musicality and coherence; for their dramatic trajectories and their contrasts between restrained and impassioned episodes, and for their inventive instrumental design. A case in point, “Linguis” begins with a striking percussion sequence assembled from myriad tinkling sounds before morphing into a grime-coated dynamo equally rooted in garage and funk. Even more arrestingly, “As You Fall” weaves rapid-fire minimalism patterns, synthesizers, found sounds, and a fabulous vocal by Py into a throbbing funk workout.

The material exudes a live, high-energy feel despite the fact that it was assembled by Tones using bits and pieces of disparate character and origin, and as the album advances, it becomes increasingly clear how integral the vocalists are to its success, with Kaleh, Py, and Jassy Grez all making strong contributions. At the same time, as memorable as the vocal cuts are, the instrumentals impress, too: “Avarice,” an overture of sorts for the album, oozes dramatic slow-burn in its smoldering bass thrust and elegiac strings, while the electronica set-piece “Draugr,” Tones' collaboration with US duo KNOX, also achieves a memorable level of high drama.

July 2014