18 April 2006


OneiricSo the debut album from Barry Lynn aka Boxcutter has finally hit the streets this week. Its a bit of a weird feeling to see all those tracks, some of which I've had on MP3 dub for over a year, collected onto a Planet Mu CD. Boxcutter has become one of the most heavily featured artists on Gutterbreakz FM, having appeared on half of the twelve transmissions to date. Consequently, "Oneiric" has, for me, the feel of a great compilation of all the brilliant tracks I've been privileged to hear. They're all present: the incendiary "Brood", the majestic "Rikta", the meditive calm of "Gave Dub", along with more recent constructions like "Skuff'd", Barry's most overtly dancefloor-orientated tune, and the plaintive weird-stepper "Hyloz", where dreamy "Selected Ambient Works" melodies sway across a riddim of strange snare placements, not too dissimilar from Loefah & Skream's "Fearless".

I feel really lucky to be in a position of trust with Barry - it's like befriending Aphex Twin 12 months before he got famous! And I don't make that comparison lightly, as I'm convinced that Mr. Lynn is gonna be one of the leading figures in the world of electronica for some time to come, if there's any justice. Now he's signed to one of the most respected labels in the world, he's performed a Breezeblock session and played live in London and I'm feeling strange sensations I haven't experienced before. Writing about an album by someone who I feel like I know quite well is a new experience. I correspond with Barry regularly, I met him and his lovely girlfriend on a trip to Belfast last year, yet suddenly he's out there in the public domain with a big record, the sort of person I would only know through interviews in the music press in the old days. Admittedly, that sort of music press doesn't function like it used to, which is why I had to interview Barry - cos the only way I could read an interview with him was if I did it myself! This leads to the other odd sensation - the idea that I might've actually had a hand in kickstarting Barry's recording career. It would've happened anyway, and I certainly wasn't the first to champion his music (Jay Da Flex for one was playing "Brood" on Radio 1 before I got on the case) but...as far as I'm aware I was the first person to write about him anywhere, and I wrote it without any outside influence, it was all based on my personal reaction, the first time I had to rely on my own taste without any journalist, blogger or other hipsters telling me it was 'okay' to like this music. The fact that so many people seem to be into it now is great for Barry, but it makes me feel good too, cos it means my sense of taste must be reasonably good!

Barry is an incredible, imaginative musician, producer and composer. If he wanted to, I'm sure he could be a success in rock, pop, soundtrack, modern jazz or whatever; he has that sort of talent. But he chooses to chase the zeitgeist of underground dance culture, which isn't a particularly safe career move these days, but its a decision on his part which I for one am very grateful for. In the same way that Squarepusher took jungle into explosive new directions in the mid-90's, Barry has the musical chops, aspiration and, one would assume, a high level of self-confidence bordering on arrogance (though I've never detected any in my correspondence with him) necessary to morph the myriad elements of garage, sublow and dubstep into startlingly new complex shapes far beyond the capabilities or desires of many of the underground originators. I like my brutal, gutter-productions as much as the next man, but still have that weak spot for highly detailed, exquisitely arranged production, which Barry delivers every time.

I think its safe to assume that, for the first half of this year at least, the two big albums to come out under the dubstep banner are this one and Burial's eponymous debut on Hyperdub. Both will probably be hailed as masterpieces, but from different quarters. Whilst Burial's vision is a grainy, haunted, post-'90s reverie, Boxcutter's ultra-modernist standpoint looks only to the future; its outlook is completely utopian, even when shadowed by moments of great poignancy. I recently read the term 'apocalypse music' in reference to this album, but for me nothing could be further from the truth. Its more like Genesis and the Creation, as a billion fragment of sound particles coalesce into beautiful, crystalline structures. It has its reference points, sometimes from unexpected quarters like the trickling guitar chimes at the start of the sublime "Mossy", which put me in mind of mid-80's Cocteau Twins, or the joyous interplay of the truly phenomenal "Sunshine V.I.P." (which completely fucks over the original version - no mean feat!) that loses itself in the ecstatic delirium that Barry finds in the work of freeform jazz-voyagers like Pharoah Sanders. It's that sort of surging, emotional charge that binds these tracks together so effectively. No matter how technically clever the production gets, there's always that magical warmth of human expression, conveyed by subtle splashes of melodic texture, that evoke feelings of elation and sorrow, or vicious waves of dubbed-out distorted delay creating dark tension, yet at the same time you're stunned by the astonishing 3D beat-wizardry, where every bar is saturated with information, yet still managing to sound spacious with a strong rhythmic undercurrent. Truly, music for the mind, body and soul, and surely one of the strongest debut albums we've seen in many years.

The other good news is that Boxcutter will be playing live at Noir in Bristol next month, so it looks like I'll finally get to see him performing his stage act (after it all went pear-shaped in Belfast last year). Lets hope the laptop behaves itself this time!

CD available at Warpmart