Monday, 17 September 2012

Review: Scuba - Personality

What a great album this is. I will freely admit that this is my first exposure to Scuba, who has been one of those names “I should check out” for the last few years. I’ve been well aware of his label, Hotflush, of course, but the man himself is still a bit of a mystery to me. However, while I was in London I embarked on an epic spending spree, picking up a whole bunch of trendy, sought-after and generally interesting albums that have been missing from my 2012 collection, and when I happened across Personality in Phonica Records in Soho (Namedrop! Namedrop!), I snapped it up.

Based on what I’ve read, and my impressions of Hotflush as a label, I would pre-emptively place Scuba as some sort of future-garage/techno hybrid. So it comes as a bit of a surprise to find out that Personality is essentially a breaks album, in the block rockin' '90s "electronica" tradition. Most of the rhythmic patterns here are breaks, and the tempo hovers around 125bpm for the most part, the one notable exception being Cognitive Dissonance, which drops into drum ‘n bass splashed with signature Hotflush vocal samples.

Now, breakbeat is pretty much my favourite dance floor rhythm, and one that’s all but died out in recent years, so as you can imagine I’m pretty fucking pleased that someone as big as Scuba has taken it upon himself to revive the form, even though I’m sure all the big blogs will have taken great care not to call a spade a spade and admit that such a good and popular album is coming out of such an untrendy genre.

Although with all that said, you shouldn’t be fooled into thinking Personality is in any way a conventional breaks album (whatever the hell that’s supposed to entail), because rhythmic bedrock aside, this is one of the most distinctive sounding albums I’ve heard in fucking ages. The acoustics and sound design are phenomenal – this album absolutely booms. It’s as though he’s captured the big room sound – the distinct and enormously pleasing sound of loud drums being played very loudly in large places – and compressed the effect down into your headphones. Lord only knows how these tracks sound in an actual warehouse space or large dancefloor, but if I had to guess I would say: probably fucking epic.

It’s not just the acoustics, either. This album steers remarkably clear of any generic sounds or samples in just about every department, the one exception being the aforementioned Cognitive Dissonance. Hearing an album like this illustrates just how unimaginative most electronic music producers actually are. We have the technology to synthesise or create any sound imaginable, and the majority of producers stick to the same boring little sets of genre sounds. The basic arrangements, polyphonies and modus operandi of this album are classic dance music, but the way it actually sounds is strikingly original. As someone who’s not heard any previous Scuba material I don’t want to strike out too far into the realms of journalistic bullshit, but it seems totally apposite that he decided to name this album “Personality”. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard an album with such a distinctive sonic signature.

And quite simply, this album is a huge amount of fun. Breakbeat at around 125bpm is just about the most digestible, danceable rhythm there is, and there is a straightforward energy to this record that you rarely hear in modern, trendy dance music. 

So… yeah. To put it simply, I like this album quite a fucking lot, far more than I thought I would. I’ve covered an awful lot of big, talked about records on this blog, and generally my reaction to them is wrapped in an air of vaguely esoteric disinterest. Personality is one of those fairly rare albums I think deserves the attention it will receive due to the name on the cover. One of the albums of 2012, no doubt.

Genre: Breaks?
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 10/10