Sunday, 12 August 2012

Review: Clubroot – MMXII III

Clubroot has been one of my favourite dubstep producers pretty much since he sprung his eponymous (music hack alert! Music hack alert!) debut back in 2009, a record I will always associate with my first few weeks living in the city, staring at distant lights in the inky winter darkness through the window of my bare room. The first album was compared, predictably to Burial, as it invoked the same sense of dark melancholic ambience through a dubstep framework, even through Clubroot’s music already had more of a widescreen sweep to it than Burial’s claustrophobic urban paranoia.

It was on the follow-up album, MMX II (see if you can figure out the release year) that Clubroot stepped firmly out of Burial’s shadow and into blinding light. MMX II took the deep bass pulses and fragmented rhythms of dubstep out of the city sprawl and into the great yonder – enormous panoramic soundscapes conjuring starlit images of savannahs and forested mountainsides. It was a revelation.

MMXII III is apparently the concluding chapter of a trilogy of albums, and like the final line of a haiku it neatly brings the previous two albums together. Admittedly, part of me is disappointed that the remarkable sonic expansion isn’t continued outwards to stratospheric dimensions, something which seems possible during the engulfing ambience of the superb opener, Ennio’s Eden and later on in the ambient lull of Murmur Interlude. For most of the opening act, however, the album goes back underground with some deep, dank, bass-heavy dubstep, alternately swinging between percussion-heavy, almost tribal material like Garrison that brings to mind Jack Sparrow, and full scale dungeon darkness such as Summons, which wouldn’t be out of place on a Kryptic Minds album. This is also an album that puts the “dub” back into dubstep. The origins of the sound are oft-forgotten by the more ambient proponents, and while that is not necessarily a bad thing, MMXII III brings some authentic dread back to proceedings.

In the second half the division between darkness and light becomes less pronounced and the melodies seep into the rhythms, and it becomes a more obvious successor to MMX II. The album ends on a very strong note with a final flurry of beautiful, mournful and emotionally complex pieces. The closing track Restraint brings together everything that makes the album – and the trilogy – so great, a horizon spanning intro melting into morose vocals, twitchy rhythmic spasms and a haunting piano refrain.

There are moments on MMXII III where the darkness threatens to consume, and overall it is just slightly too regressive into standard dubstep reference points to quite match the trope-busting opulence of its predecessor, at least in my perpetually starbound eyes. Still, this is the most emotionally complex Clubroot album yet and unquestionably one of the best albums of 2012 I’ve yet heard.

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