Review Summary: A dusty recording of old-school rave music with all the warm and vibrant energy of the blurry, nostalgic memories captured right along with it.Drop The Vowels
is the first full-length release from duo Andy Stott and Miles Whitaker of Demdike Stare. Both artists are most well-known for their dark, spaced-out productions, but their individual approaches are quite different. Their difference from each other isn’t as drastic as either of their differences from the work that’s found here, however, and with few exceptions Drop The Vowels
is far from spacious. Opener “GIF RIFF” is one of those exceptions, beginning with a brief tribal chant before starting its brooding approach into the mania that follows, as the outside noise and sunlight get left behind and the cold, mechanical clattering of an empty warehouse dancefloor starts to fill the air. There’s always a unique energy in the air when you’re walking into a club; early excitement carries slight undertones of anxiety, only to be washed away as the first act’s opening notes fill the space. And if “GIF RIFF” is the entrance and the soundcheck, that makes “Stay Ugly” the opening act, and there’s a drastic shift in energy and momentum as crunchy breaks start to clatter noisily through the air. Bright, glowing chords cut through the air leaving colorful streaks of light behind them, like ghosting eye tracers left behind by flashing strobelights.
Hardcore junglism lies at the heart of Drop The Vowels, and while it’s indebted largely to sounds that were mastered decades ago, it could never be mistaken for something pulled out of an old record collection. There’s no specific element here that’s a dead giveaway (like the dubstep basslines of Zomby’s Where Were U In ‘92?
or the grime nods found on Sully’s Blue
), but the overall approach and atmosphere here feels fresh. Particularly, the way colorful chords weave in and out of old-school breaks and the way airy melodies can float on top of meticulously paced drum beats feel like they require a more knowledgeable, retrospective look back on the material, using old elements to create something entirely new.
There’s certainly no absence of rave music’s raw energy here either. “Temper Tantrum” is the most decidedly straightforward track here, with its relentlessly wavy bassline and mechanical drum clattering that never fully let up. “Corrosive” takes a full 2 minutes to fully get moving, but when it does it hits so hard that the kick drum’s distortion comes off as a natural effect of its power. It’s all a bit abrasive in its forcefulness, but truthfully it’s better off that way. And if the hammering of “Corrosive”’s ferocious percussion is slightly distorted and “Drop The Vowels” carries a bit of crackling fuzz with its rumbling bassline, it all just fits in with the organic, warehouse-rave environment that the album captures so well.
It’s hard to say if that’s what Millie and Andrea’s true intentions were in that regard. Maybe these jungle breaks really are ripped from used records that are decades-old, or maybe the cascading, neon-soaked notes that flow up and down “Corrosive” couldn’t have captured the era it’s looking back on genuinely without a bit of record bin dust layered on top. Regardless of the motivation, it never comes across as unnecessary noise, but instead it carries a familiarity reminiscent of the low-fidelity of unreleased mix-cuts and imperfect rips of lost vinyl releases, or speaker break-up from music played at volume levels just beyond their peak - because some things simply need to be played that loud.
The album doesn’t ever sound quite like one of Stott or Whitaker’s previous works, in large part because the density of the tracks don’t typically allow for either producer’s trademark spaciousness to come through. But familiar aspects can be found in a few moments, especially towards the end of the album when they start to pull back the reins. The most obvious connection is the feathery vocal work on “Back Down” that sounds like it was pulled straight from Luxury Problems
. On the other hand, closer “Quay”’s negative space and minimalistic snippets of noise bring to mind Forest of Dawn
while providing a full release from the album’s chaos as its broken-down melodies wash through the air like a cool gust of wind after a sweaty, adrenaline-fueled party; mechanical noises and soft voices drifting in and out of ears that are still ringing from the fray.