- The mythology that surrounds Drexciya—the Detroit duo of Gerald Donald and James Stinson—still still generates interest and speculation. Released in 2002, Grava 4 was the final Drexciya album, and the last chapter of their story—the saga of pregnant slaves, thrown overboard from ships, whose children evolved to live underwater in a place called Drexciya. As Stinson and Donald went deeper into the story, we found out that the Africans who became Drexciyans were actually from Ociya Syndor, a planet 700 million light years away from Earth.
Of course, none of this would matter if Drexciya hadn't been responsible for some of the best electronic music ever made. And with Grava 4, they maintained their high standards. The album charts Earth's discovery of "Utopia," the Drexciyan home universe. Grava 4 was released amid a flurry of seven Drexciya-related albums under aliases including Transllusion, Abstract Thought, Lab Rat XL and The Other People Place. It was a non-chronological series whose entries were called "storms"—in the storyline, they took the form of supernatural forces meant to conceal the existence of three other planets in the Drexciyan system from Earth.
Grava 4 carries itself with a nervous, guarded energy that makes it stand out in the duo's catalogue. "Cascading Celestial Giants," which opens the album, is certainly different from other Drexciya tracks. It's a grungy crawl, where the duo's trademark twinkling arpeggios feel unbound and floaty. Choral vocals and synths set a sad and uncertain mood, which carries into "Powers Of The Deep," diving back into Drexciyan electro with a heavy heart and a forlorn melody.
The album was the final form of an evolution between 1998's landmark Neptune's Lair and Harnessed The Storm, where the group's sound palette and set of influences practically exploded. The tracks became sparser, longer and less frantic, while IDM gripped the music in different ways, from the springy sounds on Harnessed The Storm to the lovelorn electronica of Lifestyles Of The Laptop Cafe. By the time we hit Grava 4, the Drexciya sound is transformed into something much deeper than the early Submerge records.
You can hear that growth in a track like "Gravity Waves," which is pure electro, albeit with more space and finesse than before. "Hightech Nomads," named for the people who teleported from Ociya Syndor to Earth, moves to a rare 4/4 kick drum pattern, kissed with breezy Detroit melodies. It's one of the few times that Stinson and Donald sounded more like the city they came from than the universe they created, and it's wonderfully smooth and mature.
That Grava 4 is an unusual Drexciya record is what makes it the perfect swan song for such an enigmatic duo. The record is sonically rich, emotionally ambiguous and loaded with some of the duo's most inventive arrangements. The freeform style means it's less consistent than past LPs, but it's also occasionally more illuminating.
Grava 4 ends with its most traditional Drexciya track, "Astronomical Guidepost," a splendid piece of electro with one of the group's heaviest basslines. "Use the star chart... plot your path back to Earth," intones a reassuring voice. It's a reference to the duo's registry of a star, but it also feels like a final send off, the duo's way of saying goodbye.
01. Cascading Celestial Giants
02. Powers Of The Deep
03. Drexciyen Starchamber
04. Gravity Waves
05. Drexciyen R.E.S.T. Principle
06. Hightech Nomads
07. 700 Million Lightyears From Earth
08. Astronomical Guidepost