As earlier predicted, 2014 should be a stellar year for Drum & Bass music and in the wake of a fantastic string of releases from Hospital Records in 2013, their first major release turned up this week from Devon duo Fred V & Grafix. While the sleepy county is more associated with lazy afternoons, strong flavoured beers and excellent food than late night rave smash hits, the pair have put out some great solo releases before hitting the big time with last year's EP Goggles, a snarling 4 track hit that showed love for a catchy melody in amongst stomping bass lines.
Following this up with non-album single Here With You, showcased a softer side to the duo, particularly on the delightful B-Side Minor Happy. From these foundations, debut album Recognise dropped this week, so read on to hear what happens when the boys let loose on a full length record!
Recognise - Fred V & Grafix
Opening track Hydra fits the boys trademark style up till now, gentle rushes usher in a complex synth led melody before the drums pound into life and usher in a halfstep bass line that drives the tune forward. The whole song has a sense of cinematic drive, a premonition of a larger whole and the rolling drum patterns on the second build help to continually expand the powerr of the tune. From here we meet the funky guitar riff of Maverick Souls, a laidback track built around flitting hi-hats, little vox samples and a warm pulsing bass line to keep things tied together nicely, it's a wonderful technical composition.
From here recent single Recognise enters the fray as an archetypal Fred V & Grafix tune but the amen breaks and puttering staccato of the synth melody are bolstered by a soulful vocal turn. It's a lovely tune but where it doesn't really break any boundaries, the quasi-rock influences on Shine with Tudor's vocals over the top is a fantastic development. Though some purists bemoan artists such as The Qemists mixing these genres, on Shine it really melds together well, anthemic without resorting to big room synths and gritty without being thrashy. Track 5, Major Happy has been around for a couple of years and as my favourite Fred V & Grafix track till now, doesn't need much saying except that it's still as brilliant as ever.
Their collaboration with UK house group Panda is a unique twist on their formula, the deep punchy beats and softer melodies imbues the song with real groove, it's unlike anything they've ever done before despite the familiar elements. Vocals courtesy of Iain Horrocks provide an extra edge to Let Your Guard Down, but after the fling with house the duo return to a grand bridging track in Bladerunner which combines an epic build up, grand strings, brass and whooshes straight from a post apocalyptic world. The drop structure may be formulaic, with some added vox to keep things going, but the tone is well crafted, the orchestral sections feel integral rather than gimmicky. This whole middle album section feels experimental, the haunting words from Josie on Sick Of All Your Secrets fit the ambient tone of the track well.
Catch My Breath is more conventional in it's structure but the punchy bass line gives the tune a real punch, reinforced by Kate Westalls vocals and nicely layered instrumentation, but it's on Forest Fires with Etherwood that something special really comes through. The track feels almost oriental in it's melodic build up before a gorgeous drop fills in, the various elements feel organically composed and you'd be hard pressed to separate the textures, so beautifully is it packed together. Indeed, together with Green Destiny, this could be the album's Asian section thanks to some gamelan style percussion and Japanese influenced strings that lead, via a single bell into a deep, mysterious drop in the latter track. It's a very different approach, but one that really shows the breadth of ability these two possess.
By contrast, Better Times Are Coming is almost a pop song, the beats reminiscent of R&B and the techy riff underneath it something new yet again. The bass is more sporadic, the song feels far more trappy than anything they've done previously. The finale of albums is generally either a reflective look back at what's taken place or a clamorous culmination and Clouds Cross Skies attempts to a little of both. Building slowly, based on a string riff that adapts as it goes along, the melody taken up by tinkling keys and guitars while it wafts above drums that keep things ticking over with the track breaking down into calming and very honest closure.
Standing alone, the songs are well produced, a fine selection that shows the skill of these young producers, regardless of what genre or style they turn their heads to. While tracks like Hydra and Major Happy will probably grace more dance floors, it's in pieces such as Green Destiny that the real magic is kept. As an album, it seems to be themed around a breaking down of expectations, moving from an immediately recognisable sound to a far more experimental affair, slowly turning the tracks from full on bangers into a more liquid affair. To this extent, the inclusion of Better Times Are Coming seems a strange choice so late, disturbing the flow, but the album is an ambitious debut as a whole and one that definitely deserves your attention!