Thursday, 9 February 2012
Review: Consequence - Test Dream
In my opinion, the miniature revolution that occurred in drum 'n bass after the dubstep explosion has been more interesting than the post-dubstep sound itself. In a way, minimal d'n'b (or Autonomic) is part of post-dubstep as a movement, if not as a genre, because this stuff probably wouldn't have existed without dubstep. Granted, drum 'n bass has been steadily paring down the percussion right from the start, but most of this stuff is so minimal that you'd struggle to find any relation to drum 'n bass whatsoever if you didn't know the BPM count. And really - what is drum 'n bass if it isn't double-time breakbeats? We've already heard every possible musical fusion in the genre, from ragga to jazz to techno to funk to trance to ambient to stadium rock... Drum 'n bass is such an open genre, the rhythm was the one thing we had to hang on to. Now that's gone, we're left with two possibilities: either drum 'n bass is an infinite genre, or Autonomic isn't drum 'n bass at all. It just came out of that melting pot.
I mention all of this, instead of getting to the fuckin' point and reviewing the new Consequence album, because Consequence is a big part of this movement and Test Dream goes a long way towards summing it up. He releases on dBridge's label Exit, and dBridge helped invent the Autonomic movement. So what is Autonomic? Rhythmically, it's like the emaciated corpse of drum 'n bass, half-step rhythms halved and halved again. Melodically it tends towards experimentation, with a general trend towards bright, retro-sounding synths playing out repetitive motifs and elements of techno and ambient cropping up everywhere. When confronted by it, old-timers love to shake their heads and say "If this came out ten years ago, we'd just call it IDM." But then, they say that about just about everything these days, because old timers don't like to admit anything new has happened since they last took MDMA.
This is a bit of a patchy album. Most of those patches are interesting, even pretty good, but a few are extremely annoying or unsuccessful. Take Lovershell which simply repeats a hookless retro-future melody endlessly over a broken beat. It stops near the end then starts up for another minute. Nothing really changes, nothing really happens. It's boring, it's a sketch of an idea that somehow was deemed to be worth six minutes of listening time. Then there's Magda Trench, which is little more than a bunch of faux-atmospheric sound effects that come and go over a heartbeat rhythm. For a little spell in the middle of the album, Test Dream sounds like a poor imitation of everything that's uninterestingly trendy in electronic music - directionless, creatively malnourished "experimentation", irritating retro-future sonic textures that deliberately evoke some non-existent '80s-nostalgia Neuromancer vision of 8-bit cyberspace, and quirky, undanceable rhythms.
Luckily, there's enough here that stands out to keep Test Dream from being a waste of money (Oh yes - I paid to hear this bastard. It doesn't get more retro than that!), most of them clustered near the beginning and end. Re-Occurring is a lovely piece of sparkling ambient, Oden is a gorgeous piece of almost-conventional melodic digitised drum 'n bass, and the closing trio of tracks are an effective spin on moody, urban post-step. On balance, there's more good than bad here, so Test Dream warrants a listen, even though it's a pretty uneven listening experience not always a successful one. This is one of those albums where you would grab your favourites and add them to a larger playlist/mix, rather than play the whole thing.
Genre: Autonomic/minimal drum 'n bass/
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 7/10