Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Slugabed - Time Team

 

Ninja Tune often cite themselves as a shining beacon to the biggest and best new sounds that have emerged - and still are emerging - in an ever-changing landscape of electronic-influenced sound. From the likes of trip-hop enthusiasts Amon Tobin & Bonobo, to recently surging experimentalists like Wagon Christ, the label started by Coldcut's Matt Black and Jonathan More, remains one of the freshest independent labels in the market. And even as the electronic sound becomes more and more commercial - and thus, evenly split between the refined and the rehashed - the label still continues to promote and express both the biggest and the best without coming across as purely money-driven. Even when the subject of dubstep comes into play, the feelings surrounding Ninja Tune are one of respect, and most certainly, a degree of immediate curiosity. When describing his debut, 'Time Team', for the label, Greg Feldwick as he is known to his friends, family and fanatics - and Slugabed to the rest of us - says that "it's to do with deep feelings about mostly inexpressible things." It's a response that most would admire as purely human honesty, yet for a sound dabbling in several corners of beat-oriented electronics, the question certainly needs to be raised over what it is that is so inexpressible.

Well if said things are such matters on emotion or the innocence of such emotions, then that's certainly brought to light with the album opener 'New Worlds', a catering of glitchy beats and hip-hop organization fluttering to and fro on a track gladdened with glittering synthesizers and sampled harmonics. And it's the wonky spectral of synth hooks that are what drives this album forward, amidst all the dressage and apparel of cloudy effects and sparkling overlays that make it more emotive than what is necessary. 'Sex' is a showcasing of pure house-driven beats laid atop a bending zig-zag of electronic bass - totally devoid of any last-ditch addition of some fantastical territory into the mix. And while the track does wander into less-grittier more-wandering shifts in sound, the change - while contradicting - doesn't affect the main drive of the track's beat, in any negative way. So here, at the very least, we get some sense that Feldwick certainly has the skill and the know-how to construct his tracks - or at the very least, the tracks which may, to others, deliver the most when evaluating the album as a whole.

It's become a common pattern that vocal samples - and the appliance of it in line with the breakbeat nature of some corners of today's electronic music - find themselves meshing together with the heaviness of the drum beats used. Tracks like 'Travel Sweets', reminiscent of Bonobo's recent work, uses this in such a way that neither the vocals nor the music deter from one another, as if this new-found hybrid is a completely original venture in itself. And even when the vocals are stripped away, the track still manages to conjure this bouncy, energetic willingness to keep the song on its toes. Likewise, 'Unicorn Suplex' demonstrates a key eye for quirkiness in drum machine composition - the old-fashioned synthesizer of latter periods still showing the same relevance as its counterpart of modern-day wobbles of bass. Even without vocals though, there's still this know-how ideology Feldwick manages to leave shining in the shifting pitch of notes throughout.

To say this is an album less focused on the effect of layering and experimentation I feel would be too short and simple an explanation. On description, Slugabed's method of song-writing would be best described as dabbling with the potential realization that this is a sound completely enveloped by the music of yesteryear. True, there are as many contemporary ideas about the shift towards dubstep's focus on the centralization of bass, or breakbeat's consistently erratic signature of both time and rhythm. But the common denominator that links all these separate ideas is the pure-and-simple synthesizer: its pattern and its progression. And while the variety of old and new may work well for some, here though, it lacks in interest. 'Grandma Paints Nice' while showcasing some more warmer analog sounds and some interesting placements of plucking bass, ends up coming across too same-old same-old - helped in no way by how the track slowly begins to drag on as it passes the half-way mark. Slugabed's charm however, is when he shifts his attention on using the contemporarily-placed charm to lead the track, as is the case with 'Climbing A Tree' which again demonstrates more of this cluster of partially hip-hop, partially IDM, partially techno cocktails in slurred sound.

But again, I feel myself repeating what I've already taken note of, in that Feldwick often puts too much focus, and trust perhaps, on a simplistic deliverance of synthesized notation. 'Haze' for example may incorporate more sample-orientated sounds and ideas into how a track such as this gels as a whole, but the execution feels quite disjointed on listening. Whether this is down to personal preference or simply misguided ideas, the fact is is that moments such as these come as no surprise, given the way an album devoted to both the old and the new, has tried - with both success, and lesser of such present here - in giving each direction an equal share on the mix desk. The album's closer 'Soft Lunch' could be seen then as a weight off Feldwick's shoulders in that it clearly shows little remorse for being tried to be understood - simply going for it and pushing its warping and wrapping of woodwind samples and rattling snares in our ears. And surprisingly, the naivety of its execution actually comes across rather well, given the way the track's production leaves it swerving between left and right canals, only to be sucked back up and blown back once more.

I will cut this guy some slack, he's only 23 and this is his first time standing on, what is considered by most people, the biggest stage for instrumental electronic music such as this. It's not an attempt at waving excuses, but there has to be some credit given to a guy who is just as likely to have been collecting records, equipment and musical knowledge on the computer as much as he has in real-life, and the universal culture of online music certainly makes itself been known here on 'Time Team'. But Slugabed isn't just another one of your bedroom-producing adapters of the latest fad in today's music. Sure, the hint of today's scene of dub and bass electronics is present, but so too is the influence of the Roland and the Yamaha equipment in equal measure. For now though, he's a man solely intent on recreating the ideas he has, undoubtedly, grown to love. And if it's a love for everything electronic that is so inexpressible - as he mentioned - then that's one element of his artistry that can't be faulted.
~Jordan

7.2

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