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.

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