Review Summary: Blowing the lid off.
To talk about See It Our Way
, we first have to talk about “Low Blow.” The lead track off Benny L’s late-2017 Route Zero
EP, “Low Blow” has reshaped the past year and a half’s worth of drum and bass dancefloor production in its image. No other tune in any subgenre has had anywhere close to the same influence since; one could reasonably argue its only single-song analogue in the past decade made its mark a full eight years prior, when Spor’s remix of The Qemists’ “Stompbox” launched neurofunk into outer space. And for good reason: Benny L’s magnum opus is inconceivably gargantuan, its bassline undulating over its crisp drums with the power of an out-of-control semi truck barreling down an open highway. The track and its dub-only VIP continue to be caned to death over a year later, young producers’ stars are born based on how well they can recapture even a fraction of the song’s spirit (particular nods in order here to Kanine, Bou, T>I, and Limited), and the tune continues to maintain its initial appeal. It is not just the best drum and bass tune of the past two years; it is
the drum and bass of the past two years.
We also have to talk about “Low Blow,” though, because of its less savory aftershocks. Thanks to both his released tunes’ success and his impressive arsenal of unreleased remixes only available in his mixes and live sets, Benny L is now one of the most sought-after producers and DJs in the world. It seems as though he knows it, too; he’s been particularly protective of his sound, occasionally coming to blows with producers who show any sign of eclipsing him. Case in point: his response to Shyun’s bootleg of “Low Blow.” The track is a spectral reimagining of the original, bass flatter, squarer, and blunter when the track’s kick drums aren’t clipping it out of existence; it is the semi truck of the original winking in and out of existence with the terrifying menace of a Weeping Angel. That is, this is unofficially what the track sounds like; officially, I have never heard it, as Benny L hath decreed it be wiped from the internet. It’s thus far only reared its head online in a podcast mixed by Shyun and fellow Critical Music young guns Klax, a podcast from which someone has mysteriously scrubbed a particular minute a few days after its release. (The original mix is still available online, just not on Soundcloud; intrepid readers should be able to find it, but a link will not be provided here for fear of it being struck down from where it currently resides too.) Benny’s removal rationale is unclear; the only information we have as to his displeasure are a few politic and dispassionate comments from Shyun himself within a drum and bass group on Facebook. Perhaps he considered Shyun’s take an improprietous watering-down; perhaps he felt threatened by a reworking better than his own. We’ll likely never know.
The “Low Blow” bootleg, in its blue-screen-of-death improvement upon the original, summarizes the appeal of Shyun, and his See It Our Way
collaborator Cruk, quite aptly. The two are part of a rare breed of producers who straddle the line between the aforedescribed “roller” sound and an increasingly divergent stripe of maximalist, redlining neurofunk. Alone, each producer has built an impressive arsenal of such tracks in the few years they’ve both been active. Shyun’s “Pinball,” off his debut main-series solo release for DnB tastemakers and See It Our Way
home Critical Music, demonstrates that producer’s chops, mid-range darting about with the agility of a hummingbird and the raw power of a sledgehammer. Same with Cruk’s “Cold Top,” off his 2017 debut on Critical’s new-producer series Binary
, a sub-zero tune fuzzed around the edges by crystals of jagged, tuneless synth.
Together, Shyun and Cruk amplify the best parts of each other’s engineering expertise. See It Our Way
is a collaboration that makes sense both on paper and in production - Cruk’s seething restraint blown over the top by Shyun’s viciousness, Shyun’s aggressive dancefloor destroyers reined in just a bit by Cruk’s skulking sound. Both producers excel at dense arrangements which, like the vanished Benny L rework, cut out for a split second when each massive kick enters, and they’ve imbued See It Our Way
with that martial funk. The clicky title track lurches rhythmically ahead through a path carved by cymbals ragged as chewed fingernails, rolling bass pinning the rest down with an anchor's force. Similarly, though opener “Breathe” first flirts with frigid, spacey synthwave, its pained vocal is soon ripped into a tornado of menacing bass stabs, its preceding melody tripped over a snarled forest of snares and lost in the underbrush.
If See It Our Way
has a weakness, it’s that of spartan neurofunk occasionally slipping into sounds too similar to each other. “Wreckage,” in the midst of a three-track run whose percussive structures rarely stray from straight-ahead drum and bass patterns, feels especially staid: its by-the-numbers drum programming and on-beat squeals of distortion lack the off-kilter syncopation that gives the rest of the EP life. All that is thrown into disarray, however, when clear standout “Creatures” saunters in. Its monsoon of horns heralds an utterly monstrous halftime drop-in with the pomp and gravity that the section’s regality deserves; the subsequent brick wall of bass and pots-and-pans cymbals cannot be thoroughly described in intelligible English, so “bananas” will have to do. The one-two-three punch of the title track into “Creatures” into the crackling thundercloud of closing track “Tempest” makes for a thoroughly convincing argument on the benefits of infusing punishing neuro into shoe-throwing rollers and vice versa. That, and the EP as a whole, sees two young producers working at full capacity at the forefront of the most exciting production styles in drum and bass today. The best thing about the success of tracks like “Low Blow” is the reframing that happens as a result, as the rest of the subgenre scrambles to catch up - and, when enough producers figure out how to capture that same magic, evolutions and deconstructions breathe in even more new life. Paradigm shifts aren’t just good because of the initial system shock: the best is always yet to come.