Sunday, 30 September 2012

Submotion Orchestra - Fragments

Let’s face it, we live in a world which is being dominated by dubstep and its many subgenres. Being an electronic music producer I’m also being surrounded by would-be dubstep DJ’s and enthusiasts. And while I was once quite taken with heavy drops, buzzing LFO basslines and edited reggae vocals it didn’t take long for me to get tired of the sound. One thing I never seem to get tired of though, is dubstep fusion, especially when it’s done right (like, for instance, the new Muse album).

Leeds based 7-piece band Submotion Orchestra is a band that does it right. Mixing genres like downtempo with live instrumentation reminiscent of Jazz and Reggae with low and grimey basslines and Dubstep rhythms. Their first album “Finest Hour”, released in 2009, succeeded in peaking my interest and as a result it managed to stay in my most played list for a few months. I’m surprised that a band this big is able to put out a new album the year after. 

With this release we see a band who has found its footing and is now really putting themselves out there. The whole jazzy thing is back (thank the heavens), as are the low basslines albeit in a less moody way that I came to love them for. This, however, is not something that is sorely missed. The intro of the album goes further than most intros on albums do. It’s a valid and interesting introduction to the matured, well-established sound of the first album and while it manages to comfort the listener with the fact that the band didn’t have many great changes sound-wise, it leaves no illusion that the band is still stuck in 2011.  "Blind Spot" is a killer track that showcases the great groove and feel for layering that this band has. The soulful vocals of lead singer Ruby Wood surrounds each track with a sense of mystery and wonder, a gentle guide through the intense listening experience that lays ahead of you. "Thinking" focuses more on the percussion than the vocals, with melodies creating a thick structure. "Snow" is a beautiful laid-back track which wouldn’t sound bad in a late night jazz club in San Fransisco and this trend continues on "Sleepwalker". The album picks up pace on track six, "Bird of Prey" and mixes the established sound up with some UK grime on "Times Strange". The track stands out for its dissonance and the inclusion of an MC. The moodiness of the first track is back in full force, and then some. The only track on here that could be classified as closest to dubstep is the apologetically titled "It’s Not Me, It’s You" and whilst chilled out and laid back it’s the only track that very heavily features synths as a melody. 

It’s an intriguing listen. The album is interesting enough in its own right and even though there’s enough dynamic content to make you press the play button after it’s all said and done it does fall flat on one end: it’s tiresome. While every track is unique and memorable and has its own character it has one big flaw; it all starts to sound a bit like the same trick in a new disguise. It’s the same buildup to the halftime drum with saxophone and warm vocals. Sometimes it can even get a bit boring. But does that spoil the fun? It depends. If you’re expecting a dubstep album with jazzy segments, you’re in for a bad surprise. If you’re looking for jazz with an edge however, this album may just be in luck! This is a very nice update to moody night-time jazz, a film Noir soundtrack for the modern (wo)man. I will shelve this for the time being, but I will surely get it out again to enjoy on a rainy night with a nice glass of whiskey and one of the cheap cigars I’ve got saved up in my closet.