London Grime Thrives on ‘Boxed Vol. 1,’ and More Dance Tracks of the Week
Plus J&L, Abdulla Rashim, Physical Therapy, and Norman Nodge take techno to psychedelic extremes
Various, Boxed Vol. 1 (Boxed London)
Boxed Vol. 1 is a free compilation put together to celebrate the first anniversary of the roving London grime night of the same name, but it doubles as a mile-marker for the renaissance of instrumental grime itself. The brittle, bleepy style has made a powerful resurgence in the past few years, with artists like Slackk, Logos, Mumdance, and Murlo leading a much bigger pack best known to London insiders, and Boxed Vol. 1 suggests that we should all be paying much more attention. (Granted, that’s not always easy, given the genre’s proclivity for exclusive dubs and jealously guarded VIP mixes.)
One of the big takeaways is how much the new wave of grime has moved along from the signatures established over a decade ago with tunes like Musical Mob’s “Pulse X” and Wiley’s “Eskimo.” Slackk’s “West of Rome” is a neo-classical synth-string prelude that tips its hat to John Williams and Ennio Morricone; Dullah Beatz’ “Mayfair” harnesses bulbous horn stabs for a chest-puffing response to TNGHT; and Prince Lazio’s “Go On & Hit It,” William Skeng’s “Visit Me,” and Finn’s “My My” are snapping, spacious reworks of R&B hits that recall Chicago footwork in its loopy, appropriative spirit, if not its rhythmic signature.
But there are plenty of classic grime hallmarks too: The twinkling video-game bleeps of Logos’ “Cloudbursting,” the melting bass vamps of Strict Face’s “Saigon Figure,” the icy rimshots and wrong-footed twists of Trends’ “Catchphrase,” the hollow-point squarewave melody of Murlo’s “DayBreak.” The way they cleave to their sources feels a little bit like entering the uncanny valley, but that sense of cognitive displacement is entirely appropriate for a music that’s all about feeling queasy. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Mr. Mitch’s chopped-and-screwed edit of “California Girls,” which sounds like the product of an evening spent with a broken turntable, a whirly tube, and a bad batch of Dramamine. (Download the whole compilation here.)
Physical Therapy, Million Years Crushed EP (Allergy Season)
It’s getting increasingly hard to figure out what, exactly, Physical Therapy does — gonzo rave? Two-tabs-of-acid house? Happy horsecore? — but that just makes the New Jersey producer more interesting to watch as he develops. What has become apparent across the handful of EPs that he’s released so far is that he favors classic tropes (sampled chord stabs, acid squiggle, 808s, breakbeats) and fucked-up mindstates; it sounds as if he’s trying to replicate that moment that occurs in a club, whether through chemicals or blood-sugar levels or plain-old happenstance, when whatever the DJ’s playing at that moment sounds like the most mind-bendingly immediate and nerve-janglingly visceral thing you have ever heard. Sometimes he’s willing to go pretty far out to do that: “Val E of the Dolls” is a 135-BPM breakbeat track that scans as twice the speed, a relentless walloping of staccato vocal samples and eighth-note kick drums that still manages to be almost kind of soothing; heard at the right hour and volume, it’s the kind of structure you could crawl inside. “American Cream,” another of the B-side cuts on this, his second release on his own Allergy Season label, is almost the opposite: a chillout-tempo cut that wears an armor of clangy metallic percussion and diamond-tipped vocal samples, and that somehow gets you to a very similar place.
But with the title track, he proves that simple can do the trick, too. Its interpretation of cavernous warehouse techno might be the most anonymous-sounding thing he’s done, but its careful balance of textures and hues elevates it above the generic, as does the effortless way it unfolds. And since Norman Nodge’s name is pretty much synonymous with cavernous warehouse techno, it’s a treat to see him taking on the remix, which he delivers in fine fashion. Bass like a shredded speaker cone, filtered dub delay crisscrossing from here to there, a reassuring glow beneath the grit — it sounds like a whisper run through a particle accelerator that’s hooked up to a maxed-out set of Funktion Ones.
J&L, Ramanaya Chant (ESHU)
“Save the Planet,” the A-side of a new EP from the Dutch duo J&L (ESHU co-founder Jocelyn Abell and Tom Liem), feels less like a song than an Alexander Calder mobile. Its primary components are tentative, pitter-pat drums and a lone, syncopated bass tone; they do little but spin slowly in place, bathed in rosy light, for nearly 11 minutes, telescoping eternity into the blink of an eye. “Ramayana Chant” is similarly minimalist and similarly sculptural; its bass tone sounds like a slack rubber band, and its arrays of interlocking loops bring to mind Institut Für Feinmotorik. Abdulla Rashim, the most linear artist in dance music, is the perfect person to remix them. His “Ramayana Planet” remix presumably pulls elements from both tracks, but who knows; drawing dubbed-out snares into rippling 16th-note patterns and unfurling great, gauzy chords overhead, it sounds mostly like his own, intensely focused work. Techno doesn’t come much more hypnotic.