Under The Counter (Volume Four)

Reviews of new releases and fresh promo’s.

X-Altera – X-Altera (Ghostly International)

The debut self-titled album by X-Altera (otherwise known as Tadd Mullinix or Dabrye) is a perfect example of reflective yet entirely modern composition, a digital love letter to the ghosts of 20 plus years past.

Fusing jungle and techno elements in a 93-95 style will draw obvious comparisons to Jacob’s Optical Stairway (a 4 Hero project for R&S) which whilst arguably justified overlook the influence of other artists on the album. These range from high profile protagonists Alex Reece, Wax Doctor, Justice and A Guy Called Gerald through to the 96 excursions into techno by Photek, the early 90’s breakbeat experiments of The Black Dog and Reinforced releases by Covert Operations, Tek 9 and Project A-KO.

Richly electronic this LP references an era when drum and bass pioneers were injecting a fresh vibrancy into techno. Jungle producers were replacing their Detroit record samples with hardware and synths to craft their own melodies. It was this period of creativity that led to some of the scenes most forward-thinking experiments, much of which were neglected at the time yet revered today.

The album has many stand out tracks including the opening song “Compound Extraprotus” with its alluring build and unexpected piercing stab centerpiece, the 2018 equivalent of Rufige Kru’s “Manslaughter”. The juxtaposition of heavenly atmospherics and nasty bass of “In My Life” and the elegance of “Parallel Rites (Kepler-452b)” and “Holotyd Neo-Optika”.

Whilst heavily influenced by the mentioned producers X-Altera successfully takes this inspiration and crafts a sound truly his own. The LP works in part due to the individual quality of the tracks but its the overall structure of the album that makes this a modern classic. Harmony, balance, rhythm and character are abundant throughout its entire sonic journey. More than a collection of tributes this is a beautifully constructed debut that is polished, adept and an essential listen for anyone who coverts their early Rivets.

Various Artists – Blunted Breaks [Volume 1] (Western Lore)

Taking just 24 seconds before the first amen drops this is a serious collection of modern jungle with its head firmly in the present but fully aware of its roots in the ’90s. Catering for all styles of drum and bass this is a coherent and vibrant compilation which demonstrates the current glowing state of the scene. Tracks featuring luminaries of the community Tim Reaper, Coco Bryce and Earl Grey certainly stand out partly due to their diversity but do not outshine contributions from others. The album strikes a fine balance between the spaced out end of the scene, highlights including the mesmerising organic jazziness of “Vanishing Point” by Cavanaut, right through to the amens for dancefloors approach taken by Thugwidow on “Pilgrim”. A strong dub influence runs throughout the compilation that helps bond the variety of styles on offer. Label boss Dead Man’s Chest opens and closes the LP with two tracks of frenetic edits and frenzied arrangements capturing the essence of early hardcore and the evolution of jungle perfectly. Available now as a triple vinyl LP or digital download it’s worth noting that if you purchase directly from the Western Lore Bandcamp you also get a download version of the “Blunted Breaks And Other Dubs (Volume 1)” mixtape thrown in.

Djrum – Portrait With Firewood (R&S)

R&S has a long-standing relationship with the drum and bass community and has actively encouraged producers to push barriers and burn down walls, notable examples being the Jacobs Optical Stairway LP and the ten-minute opus “All I Need” by Wax Doctor. “Portrait With Firewood” further adds to their reputation of encouraging producers to challenge themselves and create something heartfelt and meaningful as Djrum forgoes his natural sampling approach to show a side of him that until now remained hidden. For the first time, his piano compositions are presented on full display forming the basis for much of the structure and tone of the album. Classically trained yet remaining anxious about making his talent public the LP is a very personal release capturing the honest beauty and frailty of human emotion. Wildly endearing and enchanting the album often resembles classic F.S.O.L or Black Dog in tone and freeness. Overall its an alluring album with delicate moments for contemplation (Creature Part 1) and expressive adventures into bass music (Blue Violet).

Etch – Up And Downs (Sneaker Social Club)

Sneaker Social Club continues their exploration into jungle charged bass music with this collection of dubs from Brighton based producer Etch. Made over a period of four years the tracks tell a tale of euphoria and despair chronicling the artists challenge with the “Ups And Downs” of life. Moments of joy are emulated through “Snells Law” and “Lost Orbit” with space samples, jazzy breakbeats and spoken word sections that inject a sense of nostalgic fun similar to the 97 Wagon Christ LP “Big Soup” on Mo Wax and the 2012 Plug LP “Back In Time” on Ninja Tune. These moments are contrasted with the darker elements of “Black Rainbow” and tension of “Hope For The Worst”. A sense of journey and escape commands the album whether that’s a desire to get lost in the music and dance or to go on an imaginary trip into space to forget daily troubles. At times therapeutic at others bitter both sides of human emotions are captured genuinely. With plaudits from 2 Bad Mice and Foul Play as it says on “Groove Control” “do not resist the beat, let the beat control your body…”

Eusebeia – Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction (Literature)

Fresh from his “Exit Trappings” release on Repertoire Eusebeia returns with a further two tracks of mystery and intrigue this time on the Literature label. Taken from a forthcoming seven track cassette release “Breakdown Of Illusion” label boss Cuelock selects two cuts that demonstrate a unique approach to drum and bass for this twelve. Blending ominous half time beats with traditional drum edits both tracks form a robust first half before breaking down to forlorn atmospherics then dropping into a second section which utilises completely different breaks and drum patterns then reintroduces elements from the first half towards the end. This almost creates an EP of four individual tracks, an original idea that’s well executed and bodes well for the full tape release.

2 Bad Mice – Hold It Down [Justice And Metro Remix] (White Label)

The 1991 rave anthem gets a 2018 hip hop rework courtesy of Justice And Metro. Resampling the same songs as the original the duo recreates the track at a slower tempo overflowing with funk and B-Boy attitude. An uncomplicated idea that’s perfectly executed the simplicity of a looped breakbeat coated with rap and soul samples remains as infectious now as it ever was. Losing none of its vibrancy at a slower BPM this will hopefully spawn more hip hop edits of hardcore anthems in the future. Lathe cut on bespoke 7” the flip side features a shortened edit of the original, unlikely to hit the shops if you get an opportunity to buy one make sure you do. One for the collectors.

Patrick Conway – Nanotubes (ART-E-FAX)

E-Fax presents four further detours into break tinged house and techno. On the A-Side, rugged drums and scattered snares propel the two tracks as a deluge of lo-fi loops and mystifying strings weave a curious soundscape of paranoia and self-doubt. Strange noises and unpredictable arrangements add to the uneasy tone as Sheffield style bass conjures imagery of rebellious clubs and questionable raves. On the flip side feelings of hope are displayed as swirling bleeps and warm textures form a steady reassurance and confidence that contrasts the turbulence of the first two tracks. Patrick Conway maybe an “emerging” artist but with an already impressive output of raw grooves that resonate he is certainly a producer to keep an eye on.

Words: Dave Sector

Many thanks to the artists and labels who send me music. If you would like your release considered for inclusion on Two Hungry Ghosts please email your submission to twohungryghosts@gmail.com

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