Review Summary: Great drum & bass albums don't come round often - we should cherish the ones we have.I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. The dollar buys a nickel's work, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV's while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be! We know things are bad - worse than bad! They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, "Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone!
Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get MAD! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. All I know is that first you've GOT TO GET MAD! You've got to say, "I'm a HUMAN BEING, Goddamnit! My life has VALUE!"
This sample - written by Paddy Chayefsky and taken from the 1976 film Network
- is what kicks off Era of Diversion
, the debut album by Georgia-based hardstep trio Evol Intent. Along with the George W. Bush speech that features on the title track, it sets the tone beautifully without coming off as empty faux-political posturing; it might have come from an unlikely source, but Era of Diversion
is a state-of-the-nation address as poignant as anything this reviewer has heard in 2008. The financial crisis, the general air of discontent, the rise in violent crime, the cynicism many can't help but feel toward the constant mantra of 'change', the cold resignation too many people accept as normal; all of it feeds into these 19 tracks.
Does that sound overwhelming? It is, and not just because of its concept. Consider the guestlist - all sorts of bases are covered, with indie rock's The Sound of Animals Fighting, fellow US D&B star Ewun, rapper J Messinian, and Aaron Bedard from Bane - I assume they're a metalcore band - all showing up to contribute, and all impressing. Unsurprisingly, given that drum'n'bass is essentially a rhythm and tempo rather than a true genre, and there are three minds at work here, the album shoots off into all sorts of categories, from dubstep, to metal, to Pendulum-style driving rock'n'bass, to glitchy IDM, to at least one track that sounds like a shot at making Linkin Park's Reanimation
The reason all that can be put together and function cohesively is because, if we're being honest, the sounds contained on Era of Diversion
barely matter. As impressive as the diversity the album brings can be, it's the message, the mood that carries it through. That would, admittedly, make it far too laborious a listen if everything was just anger throughout, which is why the album's greatest strength is in the different angles from which it approaches its 'the world is fuc
ked' theme. There's tracks like the bruised and pretty "I'm Happy Your Grave Is Next To Mine", a moment which functions like a sigh of relief in the context of the album. It's resigned, and still far from what you'd call happy or relaxed, but it rivals similar tracks like John Zorn's "Chinatown" and Burial's "Forgive" for the impact they have on their respective albums. Speaking of Burial, songs like the similarly dreamy "South London" channel his ability to cut up and dehumanize the simplest of vocals and make them mean so much more than was originally intended, and the closing "Maybe We'll Dance Tomorrow" offers the same kind of relatively upbeat ending that "Raver" did to Untrue
. The dehumanizing continues on the album's most out-there, glitchy tracks, which offer the necessary musical literalism for the theme and occasionally call Squarepusher and Fennesz to mind. And then if that all didn't help drill the point home, there's J Messinian's rap on "The Foreword" and the later revisiting of similar lyrical ideas on "Death, Lies, and Videotape" by Cypher Linguistics.
It's rare enough that an artist takes on this kind of theme, with this kind of sonic range, and succeeds - much rarer in the notoriously inconsistent realm of drum'n'bass albums. Really, we should be happy enough that an album this good has come from this genre, and that it doesn't just feel like a bunch of singles tacked together. That only sums up why Era of Diversion
is such a great album in the short-term, though. Perhaps people might want some kind of answer or some kind of salvation from any artist who wants to speak about the climate we live in, but then, surely one of the defining features of our times is that those answers and distractions aren't forthcoming? That's just one of the reasons why Evol Intent have so neatly summed things up with this record, and one of the reasons why this is bound to become a future underground touchstone.