Thursday, 30 May 2013

Author - Forward Forever (a review)

There's been talk recently of the death of an entire genre, brought on by a culmination of factors, mostly disenchantment, popularity and overexposure. Dubstep has always divided opinion and as the demand for heavier, more abrasive drops reached an all time high, it's only natural that a tipping point was reached.

Not every dubstep producer is happy to leave the ailing genre and step onto the as-yet unspoiled pastures of Instagram house though. It's difficult for me to write objectively about Author. On the one hand, they're a production duo who I don't know personally and therefore could say whatever I wanted about. On the other, as solo artists and as their current collaborative project they have created some of the most important music to me that I've heard; a bold statement, but one that could easily be backed up if you gave me a soap box, two shots of gin and four hours of your time.

J. Sparrow asked me to tell him honestly what I thought of "Forward Forever" so these are the words I came up with.

It would be easy for Author to rest on the merits of their previous works to sell a willfully difficult second album. Their first self-titled LP was met with a wide-reaching ripple of critical acclaim. Loved entirely by a sizeable cluster of fans, it reached out past the confines of the usual dubstep crowd.

Rather than scrabble for inspiration by changing direction as many would, the pair use “Forward Forever” to create a meticulous scrapbook of sonic memories, ideas and sketches; some brand new to the listener, some previewed in live sets along the way. It covers a lot of ground too, there are a plethora of influences on show and the album is made stronger by some impressive guest spots and influences. Dan Man's distinctive roots vocals give “Jah Live”'s swooning dub an authentic edge, and “After Time” would not have that same flourishing, burnished glow without long-time friend and collaborator Quark's dreamy, atmospheric influence.

There's a dynamic at work between both producers that give Author a raw credibility underneath the polished beats and brass. Perhaps it's because they've worked together for years that they have become so comfortable as a duo -- there is something joyful in hearing both Ruckspin and Jack Sparrow bounce off each other. Working in unison yet with their own techniques and ideas in mind, they coalesce and soar apart constantly, changing and adapting to each track's trajectory. I wouldn't be surprised if half of the LP came about through drawing up specific ideas and half were brought to life by improvisation using this shared mindset.

One guest musician who I think requires a specific mention is Submotion Orchestra's Simon Beddoe, whose gorgeously warm influence has become an essential part of Author's production as well as an integral part of their live shows. Jazz improvisation in dubstep might not catch on across the board but nothing makes more sense on Forward Forever than his subtly illuminating contributions. “Take The Bridge” showcases this perfectly, offering moments where brass steps out from behind intricate percussion and deep, subby bass to create an atmosphere of its own, enhancing the sound without ever overstepping the mark.

Author are at their brightest and most cinematic in tracks like “Keep Moving” and “Innovate” as provocative lyrics and emotive live instrumentation push for an emotional response. Combining Gil Scott Heron with that unmistakeably Author-style beat, Beddoe's brass and trip-hop sampling, it's a combination of all the things I love about them in one track. Going cinematic again, “Roman” is undoubtedly Ruckspin and Quark's most melancholic labour of love since “Sunshine” with its ethereal, flowing sounds falling into deep caverns of bass with live instrumentation flickering around a deeper hum of subs and strings.

When they get it right there are few artists who can touch Author in both levels of creativity and production skill, and that's what makes their work so intriguing; a combination of acute attention to detail whilst retaining a sense of warm musicality. The nature of an album like Forward Forever is that experimentation does lead to stronger tracks overshadowing others. Despite this however, each goes a long way to present itself not as a collection of isolated tracks, but as an interchangeable soundscape of musical ideas amassed over two career's worth of work.

Favouring live instruments and unafraid to build tracks up to towering levels of swaying atmosphere and texture, their interpretation of dubstep is a world away from the barren wastelands of ceaseless compression and robotic build-and-drop. With depth, emotion and constant creativity, they work together seamlessly to draw from both old influences and new techniques in order to explore their sound further and to make music they love, the outcome of which is a fresh yet somehow familiar perspective. There's no doubt that the latter was not the intention, but talented musicians left to their own devices to create whatever they want tend to care less about classification and more about the pictures they paint and the stories they craft with their sounds.

01. After Time feat. Quark
02. In The Sky feat. Jehst & Stig of the Dump
03. Innovate
04. My Only
05. Chant feat. June Miller & Rider Shafique
06. Gathered feat. Quantum Soul
07. On The Boil feat. Quantum Soul
08. Paint By Numbers feat. Quark
09. Jah Live feat. Dan Man
10. Roman feat. Quark
11. Take The Bridge Home
12. Keep Moving feat. Rider Shafique

Black Box will release Forward Forever on June 24th, 2013.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Watching a 44 year old man rap the theme tune from a show he used to be in isn't really for me.

Whenever a sports car drives past me, I pretend to look at my watch. This might be why whenever something is over-enthused about on the internet (something I spend about 11 hours of my day interfering with) I glance over it and secretly hope it's rubbish so I don't want to share it too. I'm a stubborn little prick, basically.

This is also the beginning of my explanation as to why I found Will and Jaden Smith doing the rap from Fresh Prince of Bel Air on Graham Norton's talk show a bit rubbish. Carlton was good, but that's because he's got nothing to fall back on. He had to put his everything into that performance.

I have nothing against the Will Smith personally - why would I? He's a a man who makes his living out of entertaining people. I respect people for that (even if Hitch was absolutely fucking diabolical). What I hated was sitting in my house at whatever time it was on Friday night watching a viral video get made in front of my eyes.

It's commonly accepted across the board that whenever there's a guest on a chat show, they are there to flog something. Whether they have a terrible new autobiography out or a new single, or they're about to launch a new show of their own, there's always that moment where they say their promo piece and then get back to being lightly questioned about what hair products they use (unless they're on Chatty Man in which case they are plied with 20/20 and forced to talk about clitorises).

What I saw on Friday night was a man pushing his averagely talented son (who he clearly adores, make no mistake about that, I totally get it) into a glaring prime-time spotlight on the basis that he is related to him. He wants to give him a head start. It kinda felt like Will Smith had gone right up to the bigger boys on the football pitch, Jaden in hand, and said "Come on son! They want you to play with them! See!". It was a bit awkward and from the look of Graham Norton's face, he thought so too. I actually turned the telly off at this point because I didn't want to watch Will Smith make his son tell a joke or do a dance routine that they'd rehearsed or something.

About an hour later, people were sharing videos of him doing the theme tune to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air with Jaden and Jazzy Jeff in tow as if it was the single greatest television moment of all time. Let me just clarify - this is a show that went off air in 1996, that was never really as good as its theme tune led us to believe.

I know, I'm no fun, I'm a cynic, I take good things and turn them into grey, magic-less mush. But are you all really that unimaginative?

This reminds me of the guy on Facebook that will make pictures of LITERALLY ANYTHING on Microsoft Paint. Anything you want. Despite this, time and time again people request him to draw a couple of fairly obscure 90s celebrities doing things like riding broomsticks or making cakes while they wear fancy dress. Clearly in the face of absolute choice, people will go back to the things they know. These days, there's a weird version of accepted oddness where "random" is as sterile as an estate agent in a navy suit. You're more likely to see a man dressed as a banana on a bar crawl these days than you are a man dressed in nice clothes. It's just the way things are now.

You do know they sat and thought up a way to get Jaden posted on the internet as much as possible over the coming 48 hours? It was a cold, calculated "how do you make a viral video?" move that was followed up by Will Smith kicking a ball really badly. I'm sure you've seen that too. Share away.

Maybe it doesn't matter. Content created for content's sake happens all the time on the internet, why shouldn't it happen on TV? I'm still stuck in a behind-the-times dreamworld where people do things because they like to do them though, not because every move they make is a marketing decision. But that's just silly naive little me. That's why I'm not a multi-millionaire with lovely, well behaved, talented kids and a core fanbase of the entire known universe. Because who doesn't like Will Smith? Answer: Nobody. Even I like him, and I hate most things.

To end on a high note, here is an example of somebody flogging something to a live studio audience on a chat show and making me nearly bawl my eyes out with the loveliness.

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