- Stenny's first album draws from the sensuous textures of post-dubstep. But it's still as powerful as you'd hope.
- In the early 2010s, a certain tendency coalesced among the giddy variety of "post dubstep" mutations. Based on two-step rhythms (which got it lumped in with "future garage") and a heightened sense of the textural that came from close study of artists like Burial, the sound spoke of emotional fragility and a need for sanctuary. At its best, it could be levitational, each tune providing a sci-fi bubble world to float away in. This was the "eyes down" meditative tendency of dubstep without the heavyweight dread. It was the strung-out vibe of Burial with a salve over the wounds. Tracks by Sepalcure and Phaeleh fit squarely in this space.
Stenny's early work ventured into this area, too (see "Trilithe" from his debut EP six years ago), though his work, which had a rave and industrial techno crunch, tended to be more muscular. On his first album, though, it's 2011 all over again. The rhythms shimmy and groove, the bass embraces and, most crucially, those textures are endlessly fertile, bubbling with exquisite detail. The fractal surfaces constantly evoke fur and foam, bristles and mist, rustling leaves and splashing water. It's no coincidence that half the titles—"Whyrl," "Water Maze," "Dew," "In A Distant Light"—evoke sensory experience. Upsurge is all about ASMR intimacy.
That means that even when there are rolling junglist rhythms ("Psygraph") or soundsystem-testing dubstep bass ("BFRB"), which alone would make for rough and rugged tracks, the overwhelming sense is of closeness and gentleness. At first that can make it seem a little bit easy-listening, a little bit wafty. But there's serious depth and hidden darkness that will turn closer listening (or loud late-night plays) into something transporting. In this regard, ambient tracks like "Sensitive Habitat," once you get them pumping out of the speakers, are the most powerful of all.
Best of all, Upsurge is the absolute epitome of night-drive electronica in the grand tradition of Kraftwerk and Model 500. Whether you're out in a forest or driving through urban underpasses, it will transform your car into a spaceship. When you hear music like this, which takes grassroots rave styles and finesses them, the knee-jerk reaction that this is dilution or gentrification is all too easy. But in the case of a record like this, there's no diminishment of power in this softening and intimacy—not one bit.
01. Water Maze
03. Sensitive Habitat
04. Blind Corners
09. Fast Fade
12. In A Distant Light