The music of the UK's supposed hardcore continuum—since the days of jungle and early dubstep and grime especially—has cherished the alienating sprawl of London, finding solace in its darkest and dingiest corners. It's a discourse that seems to especially interest DJ and journalist Martin Clark, AKA Blackdown, whose influential label Keysound seems inextricably wrapped up in its own self-mythology of the UK capital.
LV, a London group perhaps best known for their appearances on Hyperdub, released a collaborative EP of urban folklore with MC Joshua Idehen on Keysound last year before disappearing into South Africa and emerging with the infectious and bizarre "Boomslang." Routes, released on Keysound, is credited to both LV & Joshua Idehen, but here Idehen's role is less cumbersome as the group play with and contort his vocals, leveling the playing field with their beats.
Idehen's street-mystic lyrics are sometimes reduced to catchy phrases and soundbites, flipped, stretched, chopped: think "Boomslang" but with meaning. Crucially, though, Idehen is less frowny beat poet and more MC, and when pitch-shifted and re-arranged his exclamations become nefariously catchy. A prime example is "Northern Line," where London Underground tube stations form the foundation of street-corner nursery rhyme, and Idehen's acidic snarl has an almost cuddly teddy bear blunt edge to it.
Routes is of course as much about LV as it is Idehen, and the production that backs (and occasionally overwhelms) his verses is ineffably current. If "Boomslang" was the sound of clanking metal shuffle, Routes sharpens the points into blades, and the production is simultaneously more difficult and more obvious. Shards of the bent synth curvature poke out in the empty spaces on bubbling opener "I Know" and are lost in reverberant fog on "Tough," before taking over completely on the laser light-show hype of "Primary Colours," the album's most backward-looking track and a post-modern distillation of early rave music.
But no matter how far inward or outward LV pitch their rhythms, Routes is held together by its personable and quirky sense of funk that's neither here nor there: tracks like "Lean Back" and especially "Melt" flow in rhythmic ribbons in an effortlessly ambidextrous way that feels far removed from garage or UK funky.
Through the album we get a peek at all sorts of possible iterations of London underground music (or is that London Underground music?), the group taking the titular paths down every back alleyway and underground passage they fortuitously come across. The result is something that feels almost defensively London, hostile to outsiders and non-believers, but there's also something universally anxious, nervous and joyous about it all. It's a deeply conflicted, complex album at its heart, inherently forward-thinking music that perfectly portrays the bipolar nuances of city living without ever losing itself in lyrical conceits or conceptual self-importance. It's also a lot of fun to dance to.
Tracklist 01. I Know
03. Northern Line
04. Lean Back
05. Never Tired
06. Talk Talk
08. Primary Colours
09. Deleted Scenes
10. Past Tense
11. Murkish Delights
12. Last Night