Review Summary: Equal parts mysterious and delectably accessible, Black Sun converts the underground rumble and nocturnal lingering of Kode9's earlier long player into a futurist clatter of high pitched bytes of dystopia.
Despite having his time occupied by utilizing his doctorate in philosophy to groups of students more than a little enamored at being taught by such an auspicious figure, Steve Goodman, aka Kode9, still finds time in his hectic schedule to run perhaps the most influential label in the game. Under the tenure of this dubstep pioneer, Hyperdub’s hallowed halls have been tread by the likes of Ikonika, Scratchy DVA, Ill Blu, and perhaps the biggest name of them all, Burial. Perhaps due to the access of such a talented and eclectic roster is the reason behind Goodman’s impressive trailblazing, long have his mixes become the stuff of legend. It was his presence behind the decks that gave the world the first taste of Untrue
, and his knack for seemingly appearing right at the point of explosion for any new mutant strain has caused his celebrity within the genre to rise to monumental heights. Gone are the days of being dubbed “Burial’s boss”, Kode9 has in his own right, and quite deservingly, become a true champion for the underground. Goodman has this ability to appear right on the cusp of any new defining movement and sell it to the masses in agreeable terms. His ability to warp these alien like permutations to his own benefit became immediately apparent back in 2009, when ‘Black Sun’ emerged championing the illicit combination of heady wonk and disturbed shuffling garage licks. The dense murk of his more traditional inventions were still present in the track’s makeup, but glossed over in colorful bursts of acid synth. The dripping and razor sharp paranoia more commonly associated with the genre replaced by a fidgety nervousness surrounded in bleak swells of neon electrocution.
‘Black Sun’ re-appears here (for obvious reasons), given a more amorphous re-calibration, now twitchier and on edge rather than cataclysmic and rumbling. Despite operating under the guise of being the “partial eclipse version”, the title track throws its weight around, setting the feel and standard for the rest of the album. Gone are the distant echoes from smoke filled caverns felt in 2006’s Memories Of The Future
, here it’s broken down rave and abstract digressions through an urban battle ground assembled out of distorted wonk and shimmering acid flashes of jittery percussion. His hallmarks are still on display, but here they comfort rather than isolate, a welcome return that wards off the constant cascading torrent of venomous binary. Less vicious and more burrowing, Kode 9’s anthems play out like a loose arsenal of hypnotic artillery, briefly illuminated in the patchy flashes of spark against the jet black backdrop. He converts the underground rumble and nocturnal lingering of his earlier long player into a futurist clatter of high pitched bytes of dystopia.
He brings in guest vocalist Cha Cha to offset the mad poetic ramblings of his long term partner Spaceape, both placed directly into the shaky battlefield. At times their fight for viable candidacy sees them squaring off directly against each other, like a ruthless yin and yang defiantly scrambling for a higher purchase; other times their disconnected vocals mesh together turning their contributions into an androgynous outpouring of slow burning revelation. Spaceape’s normally heavy handed approach is also discarded for a much lighter assault; despite the confrontational attack he presents on ‘Am I’ (where he does battle against the protesting percussion) he relies more on stream of consciousness riddles than the space warrior overtones he’s normally known to indulge in. He frames himself adequately against the lighter backdrop, working with the more open sky approach of Goodman’s new intentions rather than against it. Here he’s more of a wandering guide than an overt contrast, constantly allowing Cha Cha’s discrete whisperings to punch holes in his doctrine.
Ever the expert perfectionist and shadowy magician, Kode 9’s turn in new surroundings comes off as vibrant and refreshing, if a little all too familiar. He borrows heavily from the likes of Darkstar on ‘Otherman’, a floating tangle of retro synths and limping beats. The fat squeals of his keys overlap one another, turning his foundation into a cascading sheet of electric rain, always threatening to break the damaged levees. The title track’s counterpoint ‘Green Sun’ plays out like an inverse equation, the glitchy landscape constantly defying the listeners insistence for a settling point, and ‘Bullet Against The Bone’ is a rabbit hole of teary eyed synthesizers brought to breaking point, electric cries of destruction. It’s the trilogy of ‘Love Is The Drug’, ‘Neon Red Sign’ and ‘The Cure’ that provides the most stability, with the vocalists tandem attack caught up in a lovers trance, while Kode 9 grooves his way into an early sweet spot that belies the fidgety trajectory that his album will soon become.
Equal parts mysterious and delectably accessible, Black Sun
is an album built with permanent occupation in smoky cafes in mind, lulling and insistent in its premise and perfect in execution. Despite a reliance of sounds and motifs that we’re already abundantly familiar, Kode9’s latest collaboration with the mystical back alley occupier still feels like it’s treading in no one’s footsteps but its own. Be it when he quiets his revolution down to a low frequency clatter or when he piles on the mystique and sends his medicated beats deep underground, Black Sun
shows a master at work, ready to move into any guise and with invitations in hand for all.