Thursday, March 5, 2015

Pearson Sound ‎– Pearson Sound

01 Asphalt Sparkle
02 Glass Eye
03 Gristle
04 Crank Call
05 Swill
06 Six Congas
07 Headless
08 Russet
09 Rubber Tree

David Kennedy, the Leeds producer behind Pearson Sound, has been at the vanguard of British electronic music since his first singles (under another alias, Ramadanman) back in 2006. He's had a productive and popular career to date, a dozen singles credited to Pearson Sound and another dozen as Ramadanman, and he even bested the likes of James Blake and Actress in a 2010 list at Little White Earbuds. But it's nearly a decade into his music career, and only now is Kennedy settling on his first full-length album.

For those who've followed Kennedy's work, "settling" hasn't been his specialty; he's a restless character. He came up as a dubstep producer alongside Mala, Coki and Burial, but before long began to embrace the rumbles of bass emanating beyond South London — most notably the sound of Chicago footwork. Kennedy's 2011 Fabriclive mix (credited to both Ramadanman and Pearson Sound) doubled as an overview of bass music in the new decade, ranging from dubstep escapees Burial, Pinch and Mala to the tech-house of Julio Bashmore and darker techno tones of Levon Vincent. A recent single, "Raindrops," was iridescent and ambient.

But for his debut, there's a sense of patience to Pearson Sound's productions; of not rushing toward the next new thing, but instead carefully considering each and every sound, be it thunderous or minute. (Listen to "Asphalt Sparkle" without the right speaker set-up, though, and the earth-moving bass might sound downright slight.) Pearson gets a tone so deep and resonant that it's like a seismic event beneath the otherwise anthemic synth chords, making the entire track wobble like Jello. "Crank Call" literally vibrates, but with smaller sounds, the way a phone might buzz across a tabletop. Listen more closely, and beneath the hi-hats and ghostly pads, there's more ringing, as well as a heavy breather at the other end of the line.

No matter the tempo, Pearson Sound thrills. "Glass Eye" slots into the modern bass canon, its rumbling hits offset by splashes of cymbals, tricky drum programming and snares that wobble like spinning plates. But Kennedy is just as effective making dark, stomach-churning ambient sounds, the way he does in "Gristle." The exotic hand percussion of "Six Congas" sounds at once bright and body-moving, but with a foreboding undercurrent. In spite of its title, the beat of "Rubber Tree" emits sparks like metal against metal before sliding into feedback. It's a noisy yet masterful end to a debut nearly a decade in the making...

Skream - Still Lemonade EP

01 Still Lemonade
02 Still Lemonade (Redshape Remix)

Is the world ready for a Skream album on Crosstown Rebels? News that Oli Jones had signed up to the Damian Lazarus helmed label for his third studio LP probably came as a shock to many, but really it fits in well with the development in sound of Skream these past few years. Whilst full details of that LP are yet to surface, Crosstown lay down a marker of how it might sound with this Still Lemonade 12" from Skream. In original form, the track is tech house at it's most immediate and colourful and is complemented by a remix from Redshape that veers off into rhythmic abstraction nicely..

Hodge & Facta - Spheres of Costa Rica / Visions

01 Spheres of Costa Rica 
02 Visions

Tempa goes Bristolian with two lean and slinky riddims from Hodge & Facta. Both arrive at this 12" off the back of their strongest work, Hodge with the 'Mind Games' for Hotline and 'Amor Fati' for Dnuos Ytivil, and Facta on the 'Loveless' 12" for Idle Hands. Here, with 'Spheres Of Costa' they find a super-cooled balance of noirish chimes and humid, playfully tropical percussion for the early swingers, whereas 'Visions' is blatantly dark and moody, all Brizzle bass shifts and spiny drums worked for the 130bpm crew...

Joker - The Mainframe

01 Intro
02 Boss Mode
03 Wise Enough (Instrumental)
04 Midnight
05 An Intervening Episode
06 Lucy (Instrumental)
07 Scene 1 (Qo, NoS)
08 Scene 2 (Neon City)
09 Scene 3 (Spirit Ruins)
10 Mahogany
11 Love (Instrumental)
12 Fuzz Bop
13 Mixed Emotions

When dubstep went global, its most successful artists met a variety of fates. Some migrated to house and techno, while some stuck with an increasingly limited formula. Some, like Skream, ascended to bigger things. Others aimed just as high, and undershot spectacularly. Way back in 2008, the swaggering synths of Joker's "Gully Brook Lane" were an early indicator of the genre's stadium potential. But the tension in early Joker productions—between the austerity of dubstep and his taste for gleeful overload—didn't hold for long. Shortly after Magnetic Man showed how to make a dubstep album with pop appeal, Joker's 2011 LP The Vision got it quite badly wrong. It was grotesque and overcooked in places, but mostly it was just plain dull. 

Its followup, The Mainframe, certainly isn't that. This, perhaps, is Joker's "vision" finally realised. It's just as overblown as its predecessor—more so, even, thanks to a palette of expensive sounding orchestral plug-ins. But the vocal appearances are much more sparing, limited to unremarkable turns from Zak Abel and Rochelle, and a skeevy performance from Sam Frank on "Lucy," the album's one truly grim moment. 

Instead, the focus has shifted back onto Joker's instrumentals. The producer has described The Mainframe as a "story" that should be enjoyed "from start to finish," like a film, and for once that tired cliche is pretty accurate. The album is cinematic in sweep. There's an absurdly grandiose "Intro," and an "An Intervening Episode" whose luxurious wafts of guitar carry a hint of jazz-fusion. There are three consecutive "Scene"s guiding us through a succession of cartoon landscapes, from the steely menace of "Qo,noS" (a Star Trek reference) to the sci-fi pomp of "Neon City" and the sentimental "Spirit Ruins." The moody segues slotted between tracks are often as entertaining as the tracks themselves.

But all of this is really just embellishment. If The Mainframe is a film, then it's a Michael Bay blockbuster: slick and engaging but totally adolescent in worldview, its plot tortuous, its characters flimsily drawn, all of it an excuse for a string of eye-popping action set-pieces. When they come, they offer a pretty undeniable thrill. "Boss Mode"'s bassline crumples like a metal-on-metal impact rendered in hi-def CGI, while "Midnight" is part boogie update, part euphoric trance breakdown, and part Godzilla-sized dubstep banger. A track like "Mahogany," with its cheesy synthetic piano and searing synths, is bracingly naff, but compelling nonetheless.

Still, just as, an hour or so into Transformers 2, the adrenaline rush peters out and the clunky sentimentality starts to grate, so too does this album outstay its welcome. The title of mawkish closer "Mixed Emotions" sums it up nicely. The Mainframe feels like the album that Joker has wanted to make all along. Whether that’s a good thing is questionable...