4th November- Yussef Kamaal- Black Focus

London’s underground music scene, its pirate radio, small clubs and bars have recently been witness to a bubbling undercurrent of exciting and experimental Jazz. This is driven in part by the duo Yussef Kamaal; who are themselves inspired by Miles Davis, Flying Lotus and his Brainfeeder crew alongside drum and bass, especially the jazzy variety played by the likes of 4Hero and Spring Heel Jack. There’s a vocal sample part way through closing track Joint 17 which sums this musically milieu up perfectly: “You create your own reference point and that’s what Jazz has always been about” and that is exactly what Yussef Kamaal are about here on Black Focus.

Whilst the album does contain a smattering of electronics the largest percentage of what is on offer here is live instrumentation by two exceptionally talented musicians. Part of what makes Black Focus so engaging and exciting is the very fact you are keenly aware that two guys are making this with a reduced level of computer reliance compared to others who make a similar sound. Their ability is outstanding. Nowhere on Black Focus is this clearer than in the album’s drum work, which is both subtle and yet front and centre. To listen to the drum work of Yussef Kamaal is to hear a thing of great beauty.

Black Focus feels and sounds like the product of all of its many influences especially on tracks like Strings of Light. However, when your influences are so diverse and critically acclaimed this is certainly no bad thing. It would be incredibly exciting if this album were to herald more experimental and jazz inflected values returning to UK Drum and Bass instead of the jump-up style, which has dominated for the last decade.

There are parts of Black Focus where the album takes a more chilled dub and jazz vibe, like in the opening to the track Remembrance. Upon hearing this anyone who remembers 90s genre Acid Jazz may be filled with terror. However, these and fears are misplaced as Yussef Kamaal are aware of musicians’ mistakes past and balance the album’s more chilled moments with snapshots of breakbeat drums and technical wizardry.

Black Focus is an experimental album which will appeal to both Jazz and Drum and Bass fans alike. Whilst also being the perfect album to play on a lazy Sunday morning after the Saturday night before. The talent that sits behind it, is a reminder of just how brilliant live instrumentation can be. Let’s hope Yussef Kamaal inspire a few young minds to pick up a drumstick or a trumpet rather than a Mac and a copy of Garageband.

 

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July 22nd- Fixate- March On EP

The second drum and bass appearance on my blog and a second recommended record for Exit Records, following the brilliant and diverse Richie Brains album. Exit Records continues to be the most exciting drum and bass label in the UK and represents a diversity of sound, which post LTJ Bukem and Andy C’s Bodyrock is often lost within the genre. I can safely and happily say Fixate’s new EP continues this Exit Records trend.

Things kick off with the heavy and aggressive March On, whilst the track itself features a pummeling bass unlike so many of their lesser affiliates a bass driven track doesn’t have to mean sped up to ridiculous levels for Fixate. Rather the aggression of the track comes from the strength of the bass not the rhythm. Things are subtle yet threatening and enough to get the blood pumping in any bass head’s veins.

The phenomenal Bandicoot is the real show stopper on Fixate’s EP. With its off-kilter rhythms, synth lead-in and Crash Bandicoot sampling drop, it is a display of diversity, restrain and bass driven brilliance. The track has been getting huge support from Toddla T and deservedly so.

Turbocharge sees Fixate employ a footwork stylised rhythm to the track, something which Exit Record affiliates have been experimenting with for some time, see Alix Perez and Richie Brains. The current love in between Drum and Bass and Footwork is an exciting one, which serves two purposes. One to reignite lost experimentalism in Drum Bass. And two to increase the awareness of one of this decade’s most exciting underground music scenes in Footwork. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, which produces great results on Fixate’s new release and will hopefully do so for others in the future.

The EP closes out with its weakest track Molecules, which is centred round an Indian drum sample. It’s not that it’s a bad track, it’s just not as good as what else is on offer here. Also, the Indian drum sample has been done to death in Drum and Bass, there are a lot more world music sounds and drum loops to sample. It would be refreshing to hear something new.

Fixate’s March On EP adds to Exit Records continuing cannon of experimental and exciting drum and bass records and is a release that anyone with an interest in the longevity of the genre should seek out straight away.

May 13th- Richie Brains- Who is Richie Brains?

Over the last 6 months mysterious anonymous tracks have been appearing on YouTube, Soundcloud and the Exit records website, diverse in style and attributed to Richie Brains. But just who is this Richie Brains? Well the imagery offers no clue as to who may be behind this brilliantly diverse drum and bass album and whilst the mask has since been removed during a live performance at Phonox I’m not going to tell you who Richie Brains is, after all that’s part of the fun.

What I will tell you is the clues are all present in this release: the album is being put out by Exit records, there is a taste for many styles; drum and bass, ragga, footwork and grime all appear whilst the vocal styles sound like a very familiar grime artist.

This project wouldn’t be half as fun and enjoyable without brilliant music to support it and that is exactly what you get from this album. Exit records has been known as a label that has explored and stretched the very meaning of drum and bass music and that is exactly what this album continues to do.

The vocal tracks lean closely towards grime and ragga whilst the instrumental tracks vary widely taking in ambient, drum and bass, footwork and dancehall. The diverse nature of this album can be seen as a product of the anonymous being/s behind it but also as an attempt to widen the pallet of drum and bass fans.

As a huge fan of the experimental side of drum and bass recent releases have disappointed me. Calyx and Teebee’s album was not as experimental or adventurous as could have been hoped for neither was the album from Rene LaVice. However, Richie Brains seeks to right these wrongs and from the very first track, Game Shades, things get off to a thrillingly experimental start. The track itself sounds like an off-cut from a John Carpenter soundtrack with a grime-y twist. It’s excellent.

The quality doesn’t really dip from here on in, Bring Dat Back featuring Killa P is a particular highlight and generated huge interest for the project when it appeared on YouTube earlier this year. Sounding a bit like a track by the Bug it takes the listener on an aggressive bass driven trip.

Drum and Bass has always been a genre which has been able to take on its influences and absorb them into new and interesting styles, hence both its diversity and longevity. It is this technique of borrowing musical influences but presenting them firmly in a drum and bass package that Richie Brains pulls off so well. There are few Drum and Bass releases this year where tracks as diverse as the Blips will be found sitting alongside a track like Buss It.

Through its diversity and brilliance Who is Richie Brains? Retains a sense of fun and is a truly enjoyable listen, which is both experimental and accessible. This is a great album for Drum and Bass heads, Exit records fans or those wishing to listen to be inducted as a junglist for the first time.

 

 

https://exitrecordsuk.bandcamp.com/album/exit-lp016-richie-brains-who-is-richie-brains-lp

 

Tunes of the month- March 2016

  1. Chemical Brothers- Wide Open- Released last year but with a new video this year. The video is stunningly beautiful with incredible dancing and special effects check it out below:

2. Total Science returned this month with a banging new EP, Notes of Blue, this one is certainly for all the old school drum and bass heads out there with this track Contraband being an old school jungle referencing highlight:

 

3. Venetian Snares released his new album Traditional Synthesizer Music to a luke warm reception. However the track She Married a Chess Computer in the End is an absolute banger and well worth hearing even if the rest of the album isn’t.

 

4. FKA Twigs can seemingly do no wrong at the moment and released Good to Love as a non album track at the start of this year, simple and beautiful with the video featuring stunning dancing.

 

5. Charli XcX has produced a mixed career she clearly has buckets of talent and personality but has so far produced her best work as a wirter for other artists. That could be about to change as she has been teaming up with the PC Music crew the first fruits of that partnership are the Vroom Vroom EP, experimental and exciting pop at its best. Also worth checking out is her recent collaboration with French genius Mr Oizo.