2014 Artists' Picks

A Far Cry
Black Vines
Borghi & Teager
EM62 & Cancino
Flug 8
William Ryan Fritch
Frode Haltli
Erik Honoré
Marsen Jules
Inoo-Kallay Duo
Kimyan Law
Man Watching the Stars
Marble Sky
Mini Pops Junior
Roach & Reyes
Secret Pyramid
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
Andy Stott
Ryan Streber
Swarm Intelligence
Terminal Sound System
Erik Truffaz & Murcof
Unto Ashes

Sylvain Chauveau
Brian Eno

Now's The Time 3

EPs / Cassettes / Singles
Michael Ashe
Far Out Mon. Disco Orch.
Neil Leonard
Stag Hare

Clarity: Infinite
Samurai Records

Without question, Infinite is an impressive debut album, and not just because the individual responsible for it—Plymouth-born and Bristol-based Owen Brown aka Clarity—-is a mere twenty years old. Brown brings an equally impressive background to the release: having discovered drum'n'bass at fourteen, he managed within two years to attract the attention of dBridge, Jubei, Skeptical, and Grooverider as well as get signed to labels such as Med School, Samurai Music, Cylon, Horizons, and dBridge's Exit Records. Setting the stage for the full-length's release, Clarity material appeared on Exit Records' Mosaic Vol. 2 Part 3 collection and on the Hell's Gate EP for Samurai Music.

To Brown's credit, Infinite is stylistically more experimental than populist. One guesses that it would have been easy for him to produce a dozen bangers and call it an album, but Brown instead opts for a deeply textured style that's artful and sophisticated. His gifts as a sound designer are abundantly clear from the outset, and the material offers a headphones experience that's amply rewarding. Layers of sounds ripple through the air, and patterns of contrasting tempo and rhythmic design compatibly share the same space.

One hears echoes of a fellow innovator like Photek in the syncopated slink of “Reflex” and the way Brown weaves its beat elements and textures into a commanding whole. “Cryptid” and “Surge” are marvels of construction and design, too, and one comes away from such material amazed that work of such advanced quality could have come from someone so young. Skeptical and Ena appear on two cuts, while “Cyclone,” an audacious collaboration with Indigo, proves to be one of the album's stronger tracks. Brown also shows he's capable of diversity, with “Kaitain” shifting the focus away from drum'n'bass for a dynamic techno workout whose locomotive chug wouldn't sound out of place in your typical underground Berlin club, and “False Impression” proving he's also capable of crafting a powerfully evocative ambient soundscape when the mood strikes.

But as strong as Infinite is, it could be stronger in the melodic department, and it's a lack that grows increasingly noticeable over the course of the overlong seventy-six-minute set; a certain formulaic quality also begins to emerge, such that by the time “Follow the Signs,” the twelfth and penultimate cut, appears, the album begins to sound like it's recycling itself. Without wishing to minimize Brown's considerable accomplishment, the tracks are largely rhythmically charged moodscapes rich in texture and atmosphere but melodically lean. Weaving multiple layers of sounds and beats into compelling wholes is one thing; creating settings elevated by distinctive melodic structures is something else altogether. Not that Brown should necessarily lose too much sleep over that: at twenty years old, he's got lots of time to work on that side of the musical equation.

January 2015