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Freddie Gibbs/Madlib - Bandana Music Album Reviews

On their second album as a duo, Madlib and Freddie Gibbs pull themselves deeper into one another’s worlds.
On paper, Freddie Gibbs, a straight-shooting street rapper, and Madlib, an eccentric tinkerer, are as mouth-watering a combo as licorice and pickle juice. But their collaborative 2014 album Piñata succeeded because the two are equally uncompromising: Madlib tailors beats to his eclectic ears alone, while Gibbs insists that he can rap over anything. Kindred spirits, the pair bonded through mutual gumption.

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Blawan - Wet Will Always Dry Music Album Reviews

Blawan - Wet Will Always Dry Music Album Reviews
The UK techno titan’s debut album is a display of his sound-design prowess—as well as a reminder that even the heaviest techno needn’t shy from the pleasures of weirdo pop.

Two minutes into “Careless,” the second song on Blawan’s debut album, Wet Will Always Dry, something unexpected happens: The UK techno don’s voice wafts into the mix, his airy tone suggesting a Belle and Sebastian B-side blown across the festival field. For a producer whose best-known song—2012’s monstrous “Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?”—hangs off a distorted vocal hook that hints at murder, the contrast is eye-opening. It introduces a rejuvenating tinge of vulnerability into Blawan’s sometimes stony techno.

The move is not entirely without precedent. Since launching his Ternesc label in 2015, Blawan (aka Jamie Roberts) has eased off the terrible intensity of “Bodies” and his thunderous work with Pariah as Karenn; that softening has coincided with him turning to modular synthesis to produce his music. Roberts’ twin 2016 EPs as Bored Young Adults and Kilner showcased a more introverted take on electronics, while 2017’s Nutrition EP hinted at tenderness within the thunder.

Even so, that cobweb-light voice on “Careless” is an unexpected highlight on an album that subtly turns up the color on Blawan’s hard-nosed production sound. It’s not just that the vocal is fragile; it also has a hook that you could find yourself muttering in the shower several days later. This is the closest Blawan has come to weirdo pop music since “Bodies” or 2011’s bumping “Getting Me Down.” His knack for an understated vocal hook shows up again on “Stell,” where his wistful voice anchors insolently squelching synths in a piece of electronic music that feels designed for staring out the window on an overcast day.

Musical color is also evident in the fantastically visceral sounds that elevate Wet Will Always Dry above the techno horde. Album opener “Klade” is built around a droning noise that evokes the feeling of lying in the long grass watching planes pass overhead, while “North” layers a springy, insistent synth line over what sounds like a bag of potato chips being thrown on the fire. It helps that the album’s mix is bathed in a satisfying sonic warmth whose rich timbre does for the ears what the smell of polished wood does for the nose.

Odd hooks and noises might not sound like enough to sustain an eight-track album. But Blawan has a way of drawing out the subtle drama in his sounds, playing on the tension between the elasticity of the instrumental lines and the tightly wound percussive structure. The rubbery harp-pluck effect on “Nims,” for example, is forever threatening to veer out of control, only to be brought back in line by the click and thud of the regimented drum line. The album only falters when these touches aren’t enough to sustain interest. “Tasser” and “Vented” both feature hugely satisfying noises—the former resembling the ominous, metallic buildup of a sea storm, the latter a ruler being twanged in the bowels of hell—but neither is developed sufficiently to raise their respective tracks above post-Jeff Mills loopery.

Wet Will Always Dry isn’t an album that will rewire dance music or revolutionize modern electronics, but at its best it succeeds in pushing against the expectations of modern techno, bringing vulnerability, warmth, and oodles of enchanting noises to a musical genre whose pursuit of the future sometimes seems to have gotten lost in po-faced respect for the past. Wet Will Always Dry is tender, intense, and dramatic. But most of all it is fun, in a way that only the pursuit of the most ludicrous aural stimulation can be.

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