Just after the release of Flying Lotus' Los Angeles, Aybee, the head of Californian leftfield collective Deepblak, was asked for his thoughts on the west coast's recent crowning as an epicentre of genre-hopping and beat-hybridizing. In his response, Aybee referenced a longer, broader history of the region as the last frontier—literally and metaphorically. "Some people need the walls to give them consciousness of thought," he said. "What I think you are hearing out of folks like Flying Lotus, Afrikan Sciences, Xaphryn Follicle and legions of others are the kids who use to look out of the window when the teacher was talking. Many are coming into the understanding as to why you looked out the window in the first place."
It's perhaps no mystery, though, why Means and Ways—the transcendent debut of Eric Porter Douglass' alias Afrikan Sciences—seemingly slipped everyone's attention (or rather, slipped my attention), on its release in April. Flying Lotus' freewheeling is of course, ultimately scribbled in the shorthand of a universal language—hip-hop. Douglass' preoccupation with rhythm, however, fixates on the oddities—the mutations, the dualities and instances of bare collision. His hoarded beats are gleaned from a whirlwind of origins—west London broken beat, the east coast's '90s house, '40s jazz, indigenous African and Latin rhythms—but they're deployed concurrently and unexpectedly, with cross-beats and displacement used as accents in his own pidgin dialect.
Within that conversation, the afrobeat-indebted beat of "Spirals" can calmly communicate with wild melodies formed of possessed carousels, rollercoaster vibraphones and the shifting, chiming reflections of funhouse mirrors. "Call Back" harnesses both afro- and -futurism, but it exists in an unfamiliar place where a primordial beat meets a mechanised drummer boy at a bizarre halfway point, while a ghostly mediator offers placatory whispers in the background. "Entitlement" begins as brusque beatdown, but its gasping noises are screwed and disorientating, and a perverse static hum lurches and occasionally accelerates, as if trying (and failing) to escape its orderly surroundings.
Douglass proves equally adept at sneaky slice-n-shuffle, particularly with the jazz arrangements that he's happy to gut and turn inside out. An unknown combo is twisted into the stepping soul of "A Tonk," and "Go Speed" is a bebop traffic jam with a bustling UK riddim. On repeated listens it becomes increasingly apparent that most essential to the album's humanist core is Douglass' mastery of the electronic upright bass guitar. It lurks, hems and edges throughout, occasionally disguised with a vaguely voice-like cloak, at other times rounded into heavy liquid drops. On "Alpha Male Syndrum" it communes with outer galaxies in deep space; with "Two as 36" it presents a point of union for clashing guttural chants, floating keys and what seems to like the banging of rickety wooden shutters.
Means and Ways is an unusual and utterly memorable debut, and one that should be granted a second life with Deepblak's promised vinyl release this summer. As this humorously edited one minute video (half earnest blockbuster intro, half hand-held camera phone tremors) attests, there may not be any windows to gaze out of in the crowded basement lab of Afrikan Sciences, but you can trust that whatever he is seeing, however unfamiliar, is still sublime.
Tracklist 01. Spirals
02. A Tonk
03. Two As 36
04. Call Back
05. Alpha Male Syndrum
08. Go Speed
09. Wreck Create
10. NanRock SKANK
11. Ways and Means