VA: dBridge Presents Mosaic Vol. 2
Exit Records

Critiquing a recent dBridge twelve-inch in The Wire 354, Joe Muggs writes, “The current rude health of drum'n'bass, two decades into its life, is a salutary lesson for anyone who wants to declare a genre moribund.” While I couldn't agree more with the observation in general, it's perhaps a tad off the mark in connecting dBridge too closely to the drum'n'bass genre: if his contribution to Exit Records' Mosaic series proves anything, it's that the compilation extends so far beyond the genre that labeling it as such seems somewhat misguided. Two years on from the first edition, volume two presents a stunning two-and-a-half-hour roundup of music, with twenty-eight tracks spread across a twelve-inch sampler and three parts (the latter available as three double-vinyl albums as well as digitally). Represented by two choice cuts of his own, dBridge is joined by Instra:mental, Skeptical, Rockwell, Dub Phizix, Kryptic Minds, Fracture, and many others, including Machine Drum and Blackpocket (aka Steve Spacek).

The sampler alone anticipates the formal release's broad range of styles. Skeptical's motorik scenesetter “Eyes Down” is as much about dubstep wobble and industrial clangour as anything else. Its piledriving groove is hardly the norm, however, as many of the tracks are less heavy (Instra:mental's “Fist Level 2 B,” for example) than one might expect from a release of this kind. Synkro's “The Way” more fits the drum'n'bass template, even if its soulful vibe also gives it individuating character, while a New Order-esque lead bass riff gives ST Files' punchy “Eric Bristow” a rather spooky quality.

The level of craft and artistry is at a disarmingly high level throughout the volume proper, with the artists contributing thoroughly developed moodscapes of ultra-sophisticated design that amply reward headphones listening. Beautifully atmospheric settings by CMX (“Tessarae”) and THY LVE (“What We Promise”) instantiate the genre's relatively chilled side, and dBridge's own tracks are state-of-the-art, too: “Not Known” a gorgeous evocation whose sequences are by turns melancholic and majestic, and “My Night Sky,” an equally luscious nocturnal dreamscape.

Frenetic moments are few and far between, though there is an occasional hard-hitter (Kutz's “The Bridge,” Fractur's “Sick Wid It”), and some tracks do riff on drum'n'bass's signature sound, such as System's elegant swinger “Sound Man.” Dub Phizix's marauding “Yukon,” J:Kenzo's “One Drop,” and Consequence & FIS's “Cultural Trauma” inhabit the darker end of the spectrum, while Om Unit & Sam Binga serve up a stunning tribal-funk blend of dubstep and drum'n'bass in “Triffidz.”

In what ways does Mosaic Vol. 2 move outside drum'n'bass? Kryptic Minds' “Burnt to Ashes” is in a dark ambient-electronica style that would fit comfortably into a Tympanik Audio release, Machine Drum's “The Palace” likewise has more in common with his deep house-flavoured side-project Sepalcure than Goldie or Photek, and Blackpocket's “After Beris” seems more a J Dilla homage than drum'n'bass cut. Head-spinning tracks like Loxy & Resound's “Residual Movement” and Elek's soulful “Want You To Know” feel like utter reimaginings that stretch the genre into bold new forms. Put simply, in making the listener recalibrate his/her thinking about a particular genre, dBridge Presents Mosaic Vol. 2 accomplishes something few compilations do.

August-September 2013