Week 38: Essential Drum & Bass Releases [September 2014]

This week’s roundup of new and forthcoming D&B releases features work from Hybris, Foreign Concept, Coleco, Calculon & Austin Speed, Pawn, Deft, Kemst, Dub Phizix, Sizzla, Skeptical, Fanu, and Document One, among others.

Coleco – Induction EP – Inflect Audio
This second release from Inflect Audio features Coleco with five weighty pieces of well-crafted Drum & Bass. “Inflection” features marching trap style beats and swirling atmospheric textures, where “Cluster” takes things to a bouncy, half-time place.

Continuing on the path toward of-the-moment festival vibes, “Micro” and “Twenty One and Beyond” find themselves on an island somewhere between London and Burning Man. Two halftime musical grindouts that will make all the ladies in the dance shake. “Tryptamine” is the most pedestrian of the five tracks, but still a solid darkstep drumfunk workout in it’s own right. 5 ways to keep things fresh on the dancefloor.

What I’m playing: “Micro”

Foreign Concept – Make Meals EP – Critical
Foreign Concept has had quite a good run over the past few years, and his most recent six track EP for Critical is a diverse look at the sound of modern D&B. The title track is a 90s Hip-Hop influenced half-tempo stormer that has seen no lack of play lately, where “When You’re Alone” rolls it out with swirling, metallic layers of warehouse atmosphere. “Endless Fade” walks further down the path toward introspective, beautiful, vocal-driven composition, and speaks to the artist’s creative range.

With “Ask Yourself”, a collab with trio Klax, Foreign Concept moves into new atmospheric territory for the half-tempo crowd. Touching on the best aspects of progressive house, bass music, and of-the-moment D&B, this exercise in class and restraint may well have the longest shelf-life of anything on the EP.

Digital-only “The Volks” is a pretty traditional D&B grind out, but doesn’t feel out of place here. Finally, Hyroglifics’ halftime rework of “Falling Stars” is a bit noisy, but would stir the right crowd into a frenzy. With this EP, Critical again solidifies its place as one of the most innovative labels in bass music.

What I’m playing: “Ask Yourself” & “Make Meals”

Fixate – Pum Pum/System Malfunction – Diffrent
Island riddims rarely get boring for me, and Fixate’s halftime take on the matter is worth listening to. “Pum Pum” ticks all the boxes one needs for a successful trip to the dancehall where chatting MC loops, rave alarms, and metallic percussion all relentlessly march toward Babylon. Though the template is familiar, the execution is unique enough to warrant it’s inclusion here, as both the vibes and engineering are intense. “System Malfunction” is the 85 BPM soundtrack to the coming mobile phone revolt. Hide your devices.

What I’m playing: “Pum Pum”

Fanu – Yin Dub/Paracosm – Lightless
Finland’s Fanu offers up two works of stomping atmosphere on this release for Lightless. “Yin Dub” weaves middle-eastern flavours with a subbed-out 303-style bassline to create a world that is very easy to get lost within. As another example of D&B reaching out to all ends of the artistic spectrum, fans of intense mood in music are sure to find elements worth loving. Though “Paracosm” diverts toward dystopia, startling and aggressive at times but occasionally spacious, it never lets it’s hands off of your neck.

Pawn – Your Feelings EP – Forthcoming SMOG
Four pieces of modern uptempo bass from LA’s Pawn. The title track features legendary West-Coast MC Kemst letting us know exactly how he feels over the slowed-up D&B openness. Extremely likable stuff. Kemst returns for “FWD”, an exploration of the territory where Jungle funk meets Vangelis, and I think I’d like to to buy property there.

“Void” is a stark and angular space you enter, rather than an object you are shown. Careful, as you’ll find it’s dangerous to go alone. “RWD” reminds us of a time long-past, where the beats are chopped and the subs never, ever let up. By showing us “Your Feelings”, SMOG and Pawn rewind to the present.

What I’m Playing: “FWD”

Document One – Revolution EP – Technique Recordings
Technique offers up 3 works of neuro-musicality with Document One’s “Revolution EP”. The title track smashes it’s way across a landscape of grinding synth work and robotic utterances, briefly stopping to rest in an oasis of eastern-minded calm between the storms. “Are We Alone” asks “Is there life on Mars”? Not sure if that issue is properly addressed here, but the cosmic bass activity is fast, loud, and reminiscent of the finest warehouse moments of mid-2000’s D&B.

The largest departure from the traditional Technique sound is “Kindness for Weakness”, opening with moody piano chords and a soulful dancehall riddim. Vocals from Sam Friend float in and remind us to look to the skies, leading us from musical breakdowns to hands-in-the-air with confidence and poise. Classy, just aggressive enough, and well executed stuff from start to finish.

What I’m playing: “Kindness for Weakness”

Various Artists – New Blood 14 – Med School Music
Hosptial/Med School unleash the 14th edition of their New Blood series of compilations which features new and emerging D&B producers of every stripe. A diverse collection of 20 tracks varying from traditional Hospital-esque melodic D&B, bleeding-edge half-tempo, and everything in-between.

The overall quality of the tracks on offer is staggering, but some highlights include the space-juke workout from EAN with “Scope”, the Autonomic-channeling “Unfurl Dissonance” from Hidden Element, and the tasteful warehouse stomper “Spaceman” by Whiney.

My personal favourite of the bunch is Subtension’s “Taking Care”. Grinding synth chords wrestle for dominance with orchestral acid plucks while a halftime beat keeps time with relentless precision. This track alone is worth the price of admission, but New Blood 14 offers up something for everyone without watering anything down. Truly essential stuff.

What I’m Playing: “Taking Care”

Sizzla – Champion Sound EP (D&B Remixes) – Muti Music
A unique offering from bass peddlers Muti Music featuring remixes from the Sizzla album “Born a King”. You can preview the full release at the Soundcloud link below, and I’ll be discussing the D&B-related remixes from this 15-track EP.

Those familiar with Sizzla will know what to expect from the overall tone of these reworks; dancehall ragga vibes of the highest order. Opening things up somewhat traditionally are the Dov1 remix and instrumental. Two-steppin, dubby bass, vocals over the top, as we’ve all seen before.

Switching things toward the future is what Dub Phizix does successfully with his re-imagining of the track. His trademark, razor-sharp beats and room-filling bass offer a modern but welcoming platform for Sizzla’s manic chatter. Similarly interesting is Skeptical’s rework, which feels more like future Dancehall than anything else on offer. Rounding out the D&B, the Spoonbill relick would sit nicely next to halftime funk like Stray’s “Matchsticks”, as it may be the most universally likable track on offer.

What I’m Playing: “Champion Sound” – Dub Phizix Remix

Calculon & Austin Speed – Get Murked – Shoot Recordings
Stateside vibes at their finest, Shoot label boss Calculon and West-Coast wunderkind Austin Speed get together to craft a captivating slice of bass-heavy, animated halftempo. The original of “Get Murked” deftly (See what I did there?) moves from halftime to full-speed versions of  it’s bouncy, dubby self. Amens appear, Mentasims swipe in and out, and the roll-out is a joy to get lost in.

The Lewis James re-imagining features arped synths floating over a rock-solid hip-hop beat as a precursor to the impending drop. The moment of truth arrives, and all becomes clear as the subs and military-grade beats march on. Though the track changes up quite a bit from section to section, all feels cohesive, and would surely keep the forward-looking dancefloors happy.

The most exciting version of this track for me is the Deft rework. Featured on Mary Anne Hobbes’ BBC show, the clip below showcases why Deft is one of the most interesting producers in modern D&B. One listen confirms that this thing is a smasher, and it’s powerful simplicity and focused engineering lets his fantastic wobble bassline shine through. Much like the original, halfway through the pace increases when the Amens show up and everyone in the dance wins. Overall, well worth picking up this fourth offering from a label on the rise.

What I’m Playing: “Get Murked” – Deft Remix

Hybris – Emergence – Invisible Recordings
Noisia’s Invisible Recordings offers up 15 slices of ultra-modern tech from Hybris. It’s rare that I hear D&B that sounds blatantly “New”, and this fantastic album provides exactly that; Hybris’ vision of what should be.

Starting things off with absolute power is the storming “Timeloop”. Pulsing neuro-textures dart around your speakers while the beats & atmosphere defy expectations at every turn. Don’t sleep on the musical aspects of this one, as it channels all of what’s best about moody synth music within it’s enveloping breakdowns. “Mind Grind” is relentless take on halftime, confusing and metallic, it would do equally well at Fabric or Low End Theory in Los Angeles.

With “Night Boss” an efficient two-step pattern provides a foundation for the sci-fi textures. “Aurora” could have been released on any number of labels, as it’s grinding, wonky flavor is more festival than Neurofunk. Are those trumpets or a synth? Only Hybris knows. “Garbage Truck” is likely the most well-known track on offer, and with good reason, and it’s slowfast-esque, stuttering beat melds perfectly with the aggressive textures and spaciousness.

Another fantastic slice of funk is “Northeast Groove”, where rimshots and morphed stab vocals fight for supremacy while performing a precisely choreographed dance. There’s tons of weirdness to go around as contrast to the more formed aspects of this release. “Chemical Winds” and “Zkouska Siren” over different takes on what a psychological breakdown must sound like after you’ve been admitted, where “Tweakers” might represent the moment you realize something is wrong.

There are certainly other tracks worth exploring here, and I fully suggest you do so, as this album represents a lot of what’s right with modern Drum & Bass. Cheers to Invisible and Hybris for this quality release.

What I’m Playing: “Northeast Groove” & “Aurora”