26 February 2007


Pinch's Tectonic label continues to grow in stature and ambition. The recent release of Moving Ninja's Formations EP suggests a strong affinity with the more ambient, atmospheric possibilities locked within the Dubstep framework. But the boldest move is yet to come - the first Tectonic long-player by a single artist is due to drop in April, and it's awesome. From The Shadows is the debut album by Random Trio's central figure, Cyrus, and in some ways it feels like the first to offer a truly accurate account of what dubstep is (currently) all about. Defiantly hardline in it's outlook, this is a zero-compromise collection of spectral halfsteppers; the almost complete lack of vocals (sampled or otherwise) suggesting an eerie, depopulated nocturnia. Indeed, there's an absence of foreground in general - the barest wisps of melody and dub-texture flit pensively into view, before ducking back into the inky shadows behind the beats. There's not much that could be called a 'riff'' - you could never confuse it with instrumental grime. This music is iPod unfriendly - listen to MP3s on the ear-buds and you'll hear some snares, tambourines and strings, and perhaps the merest hint of a bass undercurrent. This music says 'fuck you' to the convenience of iPod culture - it grew from the soundsystems , and demands to be listened to in that environment, with the cloying sub bass frequencies pushing the air around. You need to feel this music coursing through your entire body, not just your ears. A decent home hi-fi system should be adequate, though. Only serious bass-headz and audio-freaks need apply. In some ways it represents exactly what I'm trying to move away from, yet in others it totally fits the bill. It's certainly as minimal in it's intent as anything coming from the techno community. I think it might prove to be an historically important album, too: in years to come, it will give scholars a benchmark of just how emptied out this 'dance music' became before it evolved into something else. To the casual listener, pumped-up by the information overload of the mainstream, there's practically nothing there to listen to.

The album opens with "Gutter" (I'd love to think it was named in my honour, but very much doubt it), a militant mix of galloping kick drum and teasing whirls of harmonium, before easing into the shivery elegance of "Mind Games", where sweeping string pads and restless bass throb are underpinned by a brutally efficient halfstep riddim that suddenly bursts into a double-time thrash, to startling effect. But then "Paradise Dub" sails out into deep space, it's digidub flavour augmented by the barest brush strokes of environmental texture, subliminal drone and a single, perfect wobble bass note in the middle. Just when you think the album is about to drift off into a catatonic stupor, portentous strains of distant feedback usher in the mighty "Rasta From", brimming with suppressed energy, as the malevolent hi-hats scuttle over quagmire bass and intensely accented snare. A couple of points deducted for falling back on the old rasta dialogue samples, but who's counting? "Dirt" and "Calm Before The Storm" add yet more spine-tingling washes of understated pad melody and barely audible background crowd ambiance - true ghosts lost in the machine - before "Watcher" decimates all in it's path with a relentless bass note throbbing on eighths.

Cyrus' music refuses to give the slightest concession to the needs of the wider market place. It isn't trying to make any new friends. If you weren't already a convert at Dubloaded or FWD>>, this album is unlikely to draw you in. The decision to release on CD might still prove to be a masterstroke, though, as it won't alienate a larger potential audience. But unlike the Hyperdub albums, there will also be a vinyl release, spread over three discs, thus staying true to the 'spirit of the culture'. It's a well structured album, too. Even the split-second pauses between tracks seems to have been carefully tracked to give just the right sense of flow and momentum. This is one of those albums that actually hits it's peak near the end: the final trio of tracks providing a very satisfying finale. "Dark Future" injects a pounding 4/4 kick drum adrenaline rush under swooping washes of synth and a delicious descending bass pattern, whilst "Crying Game" adds amorphous wailing noises and impressionistic dashes of piano to the mix. In fact, it feels like Cyrus is gradually starting to add some musical flesh to the emaciated rhythmic bones, so that by the appropriately named title track it really feels like dawn is approaching. Cyrus steps from the shadows, his eyes blinking involuntarily as the first rays of sunshine sweep across and warm his pale, sallow complexion.

Anyone in the near vicinity is strongly advised to get down to Dubloaded in Bristol, this Friday, where Cyrus will be playing out (along with Dubstep godfather Hatcha) and no doubt showcasing the material on this album, offering a perfect chance to preview in the environment in which this music is ideally suited.