Review Summary: Much softer. Much dubbier. Still seriously, seriously good.
When Vex'd's excellent Degenerate
dropped in 2005, its main selling point (some might argue its only
selling point) is that it was hard. When tracks like "Pop Pop" and "Lion" dropped their violent, bare-knuckled basslines amidst chest-thumping compressed snare sounds, it hit harder than just about anything released that year; more than anything else released in the genre up until that point, it was focused entirely on being heavy.
Yet in dubstep, just as in any electronic genre worth its salt, five years is a long time. Being hard isn't enough any more. In fact, it's almost a bad thing by this point. The harder end of dubstep has been largely claimed by artless tattooed goons who've just migrated from Hatebreed to Krooks; at least two major UK publications using the phrase 'chavstep', while Caspa in particular became the subject of a Guardian article comparing him to Guy Ritchie, another guy who's made his fortunes by trying far too hard to act like a council estate thug, and somehow succeeding in staying on their side despite being hated by critics. Vex'd were likely a big influence on that scene - but Cloud Seed
is a clear marker that they're desperate to break away from it. The two albums could scarcely be more different.
A shift from ketamine to cannabis is the order of the day on the slyly-titled Cloud Seed
; it's dubstep with the emphasis heavily on the dub. Parts of this record steer surprisingly close to reggae - think "Monolith" by Gravious for a frame of reference - and the drums of the opening few tracks in particular are pure '70s Jamaica. Most surprisingly, the remix of the second movement of Gabriel Prokofiev's String Quartet no. 2
that first appeared in 2007 appears here - even the acknowledgement that classical music exists would have been anathema to Degenerate
, but it sits here just fine, even if it's one of the album's weaker moments, and Sergei's grandson is no stranger to electronic music himself. A few other remixes for the last couple of the years flesh out this album too - the version of Plaid's "Bar Kimura" being the pick of the bunch.
It's generally a more song-based album too, with Anneka contributing to the excellent "Heart Space" (her work here might be the most traditional vocal appearance on a truly great dubstep track since Pinch's Underwater Dancehall
), frequent dubstep collaborator Warrior Queen showing up on the opening "Take Time Out", and Soviet rapper Jest putting in a Bug-esque turn on "Disposition".
All credit possible must go to Vex'd for this album; they've pulled off a major about-turn in their style with an unusual confidence and flair. Cloud Seed
is nothing like you imagined, and yet, it's everything you'd hoped for.