- Metalheadz has been on a tear. The label is reasserting itself as a go-to source for drum & bass, signing respected artists like Detboi, Dub Phizix and Seba. But their real coup was signing an underdog act destined for great things. Blocks & Escher have been toiling away in their own corner of drum & bass since the late '00s, putting out most of their cinematic, ethereal records on their Narratives Music label. Metalheadz signed the UK duo for an EP in 2014, though they've since been relatively quiet, releasing only a few remixes and records from newcomers on Narratives Music. It turns out they'd been working on their debut album all that time. It was worth the wait. Something Blue is a loving tribute to drum & bass that encompasses many of the genre's major eras.
One of the first sounds you hear on Something Blue is a horn, which hints at what's to come. The album is loaded with plaintive trumpets and other instrumentation, a lot of which has a jazz feel. The LP's noirish melodies, on tracks like "Vigil" and "One Touch," might evoke scenes from early Wong Kar-wai films: rain-soaked streets, moving shadows and subtle, slow-motion interactions. Some tracks, informed as much by psychedelia as they are drum & bass tradition, are richly melodic soundscapes. "Gulls," another highlight, features trippy wah-wah effects that imitate the sound of birds, while other parts of the album seem to take inspiration from drum & bass's '90s heyday. "Witch Hunt" and "Sea," which are both full of soaring vocals and vivid instrumentation, could have found their way onto Goldie's Timeless.
As Jennifer Hall's voice soars above "Sea," the drums below go insane. The percussion across the LP is as imaginative as the melodic arrangements, from the jazz-drummer-on-speed vibes of "Your Ghost" to the jungle-breakcore mutations on "Sea." These tracks draw from both early styles of drum & bass and producers like Paradox and Breakage, who would later take the music in other directions. When Blocks & Escher employ harder rhythmic patterns, like on "Emerald," with its hints of turn-of-the-'00s techstep, the drums are still touched by discrete acoustic treatments. In a genre that can at times seem obsessed with clinical clarity, the album's warm, tactile sound is welcome.
Something Blue focus on rich melodies and inviting reverb makes it a strong drum & bass album, a format that's historically proven difficult to pull off. By drawing on the label's past glories, Something Blue is further evidence of Metalheadz's recent return to form. After all, dance music isn't always about blazing new trails: sometimes it's about focusing on what's good and making it better.
02. One Touch
03. Breaking The Waves
06. Witch Hunt
07. Sea feat. Jennifer Hall
08. Your Ghost
11. Something Borrowed, Something Blue