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Various Artists - Patina Echoes Music Album Reviews

Various Artists - Patina Echoes Music Album Reviews
Released by UK bass scion Batu, this survey of cutting-edge club music is less a collection of voices than a shared statement of purpose, full of thrilling rhythms and textures.

The story of UK dance music is a story of mutation: of soundsystem culture and breakbeat hardcore colliding to create jungle and drum ’n’ bass; of American house that spawned its mutant UK garage; of the darkside 2-step that would morph into dubstep, that (briefly) world-conquering sound that rampaged like a world-conquering robot. But aside from a few exceptions—specialist subgenres like UK funky, drumstep, and bassline house, also sometimes known, fittingly enough, as “niche”—the UK hasn’t generated many new styles in the past decade. That doesn’t mean that the process of evolution has hit a wall; it has just diversified and diffused. Instead of yielding distinct, readily identifiable rhythmic signatures, club music’s innovations have become restless, reinventing themselves at every turn. Seeking new ground across an expanded array of tempos, cutting-edge club music has poured its energy into shape-shifting textures and timbres. It’s a tough time for those of a taxonomical bent, but a golden age for listeners who like to be surprised at every turn.

Smack in the center of this vortex is Bristol’s Batu (Omar McCutcheon) and his Timedance label. Timedance is part of a fresh generation of imprints—like Wisdom Teeth and Whities—that have come along in the wake of Hessle Audio, Livity Sound, Hemlock, and Idle Hands, whose idiosyncratic output helped usher the amorphous style known as “UK bass” to an even more unpredictable place. Timedance has been putting out 12"s since 2015, and Batu has also released on Hessle Audio and Dnuos Ytivil, a sublabel of Livity Sound. But this is the first album-length statement that Batu has released. Even though he doesn’t actually appear on his own compilation, his sensibility guides it. The record’s tracks are all over the place—some are slow, some fast and some entirely beatless—but their flow is more in keeping with the work of a lone artist than a group effort by nearly a dozen different musicians.

McCutcheon has spoken of his debt to UK styles like jungle, dubstep, and grime, and those roots resurface all over Patina Echoes—particularly jungle, whose knotty cadences can be heard echoing through many of these tracks’ snapping syncopations. House music’s influence looms in the background—particularly in the lovely “Soft Opening,” the lush, conga-driven offering from Mexico’s Nico—but almost nothing here gives in to the regularity of a four-to-the-floor pulse. Kick drums stagger, grooves swagger, and accents jerk and thrash. In rRoxymore’s “bRINGTHEbRAVE,” minimal techno’s icy chimes ring atop a shuddering pile-up of sub-bass and white noise. The lone exception is Metrist’s “Auld Flaurist,” which borrows its insouciant bounce from ghetto house and juke. But even here, nothing is played straight: The beat sounds like it’s been sampled from a pocketful of loose change, and in the breakdown, halfway through, a string quartet makes an unexpected appearance, as though a Morton Feldman concert had broken out in the middle of a coin-op laundromat.

Everything here is richly tonal. Not like deep house or dub techno, with their monochromatic chord stabs; instead, tones slip and stretch across the spectrum. The Bristol producer Cleyra’s opening “Naked,” (a debut), takes jazz-inflected chords and smears them, in the manner of Arca’s Mutant; Rae’s “Sleep Rotation” (another debut), bathes a tentative, clicking beat in dissonant shimmer; and Via Maris’ thrilling “Side Effects” balances glassy pinging with chords that twist like the northern lights. If there’s one thing that unites everyone here, it’s a shared interest in contrasting textures and timbres—draping synths like a strip of silk over a spiky beat, or exploding a cluster of fizzy tones like fireworks in the mist.

McCutcheon has said that Patina Echoes, although a compilation, is also intended to function as a coherent long-player. Its ambient bookends help give it shape, while beatless detours like Bruce’s mind-bending “Let’s Make the Most of Our Time Here” offer the chance to duck away from the dancefloor—like microdosing, perhaps, in place of nipping out for a smoke. (Chekov’s clattering “Stasis 113,” meanwhile, is the only real club anthem here, and it’s a corker; combined with his star turn on Lena Willikens’ recent Selectors 005, the Leeds newcomer looks to be a remarkably promising talent.) More than a collection of individual voices, Patina Echoes feels like a statement of shared purpose, and as such, it assumes the mantle of iconic UK label documents like Warp’s Artificial Intelligence, Mo Wax’s Headz, and Night Slugs Allstars Volume 1—all surveys of a landscape in flux, less repositories for an established sound than catalysts for a new upheaval.

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