Review Summary: As an album born from the view seen atop the shoulders of giants, Transistor Rhythm unsurprisingly fails to cover any new ground
After four years spent bleeding London grey, it took an interest and subsequent reappraisal of classic Chicago juke and ‘80s electro before Antony Williams finally began to receive the attention he had long been due. As Tempa mainstay Headhunter, Williams crafted his dubstep in much the same fashion as we’ve come to expect from artists operating under that most respectable of banners: thick, dense and brooding halfstep, grotesque mutations of the kind of inverted techno made popular by the bipolar futurism of Basic Channel and bought back to life by Modern Love and their diverse progeny of Andy Stott, Claro Intelecto and the like. He crafted his deadpan garage against the populist strain of the movement, eschewing frenzy for patient reward. ‘Footcrab’, Williams’ first noise under his jukin’ alter-ego of Addison Groove was the inverse of this intelligent strain of bass music, on one hand defining it with its British indoctrination, and on the other steeping the decades-old sound in contradiction. While adhering to the crude but nonetheless effective repetition of Juke’s cruder moments, Williams wisely recalibrated footwork’s dizzying tempos to more commonplace UK bass speeds. While popular vote has ruled that Addison has yet to scale the same heights with his subsequent releases, if “bass music” ever decides to acknowledge its ambassadors then Williams will arguably hold a seat at the head of the table.
What was first a catalyst for change amongst the abruptly shocked dubstep world has now emerged into its own bustling enterprise of Atlantic back-and-forth with Pearson Sound and Machinedrum (both in solo form and with Sepalcure) providing their own, more subtle and nuanced takes on the infiltration. And in the wake of ‘Footcrab’, Williams has slowly evolved from DJ Rashad-idolizer into his own mercurial flag-bearer, moving deep into 808-infused hip hop territory and ghetto house. While Transistor Rhythm
has already been heralded as a footwork album by the vast majority of the mildly disappointed blogosphere, the album is anything but. More a treasure trove of adolescent adoration, it still follows Addison’s rough template of thumping 808 loops, scattershot DJ Funk-like hip hop vocal samples and claustrophobic synth swells. But while this vast appropriation might be taking place on his own terms, Addison Groove still finds himself hewing far too close to the stateside bone. For all the 2012 sheen and the new car smell that Transistor Rhythm
revels in, its sparseness and rigid upkeep of the ways of old are one of the many criticisms to befall the album.
It’s decidedly simple music made in much a similar fashion, but whereas before this easy approach at marketability proved dangerous and enticing, here the regimented re-assembly renders the majority of Transistor Rhythm
strangely limp and unappealing. There’s the distinct impression that Williams has deliberately reined in the squiggly synth hooks that pepper the album at almost every turn in a deliberate attempt to keep this release as modest as possible. This is even further elaborated on by the artist himself, who recently revealed his goal as “(something) you can play in your car and have it on for 40 minutes… nothing sticks out or is really offensive when you’re driving”. Which unfortunately places Transistor Rhythm
squarely in the middle of the road; for every clear-cut idea Addison employs, there’s the very real sense that every track here is simply acting as a placeholder for something far greater. And for an artist who manipulates so few elements within such a large environment, he’s somehow managed to completely isolate the listener through this almost religious adherence of his. For an album intentionally bereft of flamboyancy, very little manages to stand out; ‘Beeps’ and ‘Superlooper’ could be loosely defined as memorable, though this is largely thanks to an extra helping of high synth bursts that ride the track through an episode of rave epilepsy. ‘Ass Jazz’ begins as vintage garage before Williams falls back into his Headhunter days, folding Chicago 808 into hazy urban sweat and grind, while ‘Incredibly Exhausted Bunny Ears’ tries to remove itself from the big room dementia of Addison’s funk blueprint by traveling at a far more inebriated pace.
But while Transistor Rhythm
ends up as the superbly-produced album that Addison Groove has always hinted at, it’s the uniform sterility and refusal to tread water beyond the reach of his peers that stops it from succeeding beyond anything more that simple idol worship. In the moment it’s a reasonably competent release, as an afterthought it’s simply forgettable. And for an artist standing on the shoulders of giants, pioneering new frontiers should have been the easiest thing in the world.