- Speaking to The End in mid-2008, Exit boss and Autonomic mastermind Darren White, AKA dBridge, had these words to say about his beloved genre: "...when I listen to tunes from the last two or three years and compare them to tunes from the era that I believe it was at its most interesting, they don't even compare. This isn't music that people outside of our scene can look to, and that's a big beef of mine." Jump ahead to early 2010 and—thanks to the increasingly wide-ranging output of Instra:mental, SpectraSoul, Data and co—things don't look quite so bleak. In fact, we might forgive Mr White for having been a little overly pessimistic: it's his label that gave birth to 2009's best drum & bass full-length, an album which, in drawing together influences as diverse as Ed Rush, OMD and Autechre (and wilfully refusing to tick any obvious dance floor boxes at that), positively commands attention.
Judging by the maturity of the thirteen pieces on display, the culprit—Australia's Cam McLaren—is no newcomer to the scene. Take the driving "From a Distance," a darkly somatic voyage into post-apocalyptic diaspora (think Vangelis remixed by Photek, or vice versa) made in collaboration with fellow NonPlus operative ASC, or the dreamy "Lime Green," which for over three minutes swirls and hovers in a state of blissed-out abandon before a slinky rim-tap snap lumbers into view. Clearly, no easy points are out to be scored. Things are equally unyielding at the slower, garage-leaning tempo of "Feeling Like We Do," which sounds like Burial under general anaesthetic (a good thing, believe me), and the stuttering, morphine-addled "Short Lived," perhaps the darkest piece on what, at times, is a doggedly bleak album.
Still, it's not all doom and gloom. Opener "Long Lies," although fragile, offers a tentative glimpse of hope, like the first light of morning breaking over an uncertain horizon, while "Fog," arriving deep into proceedings, serves to alleviate the mounting tension with flickering keys and warm, glowing subs. Those in search of dance floor firepower, meanwhile, need look no further than the T2-drenched techstep growl of "Pseudo Echo" (a lethal, stripped-back roller), or the hyper-compressed bass dynamics of "Reflex Reaction," which no doubt benefits from Instra:mental's recent excursions into full-blown stepping territory. Sure, it's not your average main room fodder, but, patently, this is not your average drum & bass LP. It's far, far better than that.
In fact, there's only one real blooper on the album: the schmaltzy "Life Is Timing," which, sadly, delves a little too far into the champagne sipping terrain evoked by its title, and fails to integrate with what, taken in whole, is a remarkably coherent piece of work. What marks it out—and to a degree which, in the recent history of drum & bass, only dBridge's The Gemini Principle equals—is its refusal to make concessions in the name of sales, airplay, MC compatibility and such like. There are no "big tunes," no crushing breaks, no epic drops and, most pleasingly in a genre blighted by trite samples, no vocals. It's simply one man's vision of dark, futuristic bass music, and a powerful articulation—indeed, the most powerful one yet—of the Autonomic sound. Music that those outside the scene can, and really should, look to.
01. Long Lies
02. From a Distance feat. ASC
03. Feeling Like We Do
04. Life Is Timing feat. D-Bridge
05. Pseudo Echo
06. 11 Circles
07. Lime Green
08. Reflex Reaction feat. Instra:Mental
10. Short Lived
13. A Man & A Woman