- Context isn't everything, but it's a lot. "Edits have had their day I think, let's try something new," Mark E told Join the Dots in March, and he's not kidding: Stone Breaker is the man called Evetts' full-on production debut, no samples to lean on or to suck you in with the shock of the differently familiar. It's a tall order for anyone, and while nothing on the album resonates like any random moment of last year's Works 2005-2009: Selected Tracks & Edits (first volume, anyway), when you peel away the obvious elements, Mark E's basic style is audible even in its new template.
What that mostly means are chopped loops whose roughness give them some tension to build on. The advantage of using extant recordings is that a voice or instrument might truncate at the end of a bar—there's a human element built in that takes on new shades of meaning when looped, and Mark E exploited that fully on an obvious potboiler like "You (Full Vocal Mix)" and the more robotic "RnB Drunkie," which switched up the vocal sample to bring the track to a head. Too often when constructing from scratch, Mark E ends up relying on a short musical line that neither builds on itself nor leads to much of anything further—and he doesn't do himself any favors by opening Stone Breaker with "Archway," which exemplifies those problems. "Black Country Saga," which follows, at least has a diverting icy-glassy keyboard hook.
Shifting focus between a rugged electric bass and a swelling/subsiding 303, "Belvide Beat" is the album's turning point. It's not quite fully out of the shadow of Mark E's disco-fueled earlier work—the bassline is similar to the beginning of Chic's "Dance, Dance, Dance"—but it moves sleekly and its progressions feel natural, and while not every track after is surefire, taken together they create an ever-more-lush arc. Even when a track's elements feel big or blocky, as on the ten-and-a-half minute "Got to Get Me There," a deliberate early Chicago house throwback (love that plodding keyboard bassline), Mark E throws in swelling pads to give it some shade. "Orange" is sneaky pretty, stamped equally by early British techno and the Detroit stuff that impacted it, and a kind of cooled-down climax before the flip-flopping vocal samples of "The Day" close it out. Stone Breaker sounds like what it is: a first step in a new direction, with a few interesting paths marked out in advance.
02. Black Country Saga
03. Belvide Beat
05. Got To Get Me There
06. Deny This
07. Black Moon
09. The Day