Friday, November 27, 2009


Metafiction (On the Edge, 10.09)

For: Kode 9, Loudspeaker Speaker Meets Clearly Human, Joker

Byline: The Scottish DJ marks a bold path out of the ghetto of dubstep with his pastoral, expansive debut. Originally published on Used by permission from In Your Speakers, LLC.

It makes sense that late 2009 would see the release of DFRNT’s Metafiction. The past four years were a relatively harrowing ride, with UK dubstep rising from a grimy, bleak view of post-rave burnout and urban blight from Burial, Skream, Boxcutter, and Kode 9, only to be reappropriated into a slightly more clubby and communal form by Zomby and Joker and 2000F. Coming on the tail end of this movement, Metafiction is a pastoral breath of fresh air into the dubstep arena that seems more focused on the late night chill out sessions of Ibeza than the horrors of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting.

DFRNT meticulously crafts soundscapes that are easy to get lost in, which slowly move from endlessly deep bass hits to washes of sine wave synths that pulse over the track like an amphetamine rush. The move is effortless and completely at ease, contrasted with the easy generalization of dubstep being a paranoid, deeply affected take on electronic dance music. The skittish hiccups and pitch-shifted voices of anguished bluesmen and hip hop artists being dragged through their own nightmares of urban decay are replaced with syncopated hand-claps, delicate high-hat tips, new age piano lines and flute. Man, you gotta love that flute.

If we can call this anything, we can call it post-dub, a step back from the step back. Dubstep started mainly as a reaction against an out-of-control techno bent on manufacturing the problems it promised escape from. Dubstep was the equivalent of waking up the next morning after the ecstasy-fueled party with someone else’s blood on your shirt. That scary pit in the bottom of your stomach was made audible. Some of the aforementioned dubstep pioneers stripped techno of all its auspices and brought it down to the brass tacks of heavy bass, sparse two-step rhythms, heavily processed left-field vocal samples, and an omnipresent deep buzz of sub-bass.

Metafiction pays homage to this sonic palate before blowing it wide open in order to incorporate DFRNT's expansive grooves and glacial tempo changes. Instead of the occasional hit of the snare drum, we are treated to a deep, almost polyrhythmic groove in “Landscapes.” The ascending piano lines float in and out of a bass line that weaves in and out of a beat that consists of more than a snare hit looped ad nauseam. In fact, moments like this abound, leaving us asking ourselves what did we do to deserve this beauty? “Winter” sounds like a Knife slowburner with haunted synth lines over a piano line stolen straight out of a New Age handbook. In any other setting this would sound ridiculous but in the hands of Scottish DFRNT, these cheesy piano lines are given a gravitational weight that propels the track forward more than the bass line.

It appears that long players are making a come back in 2009 with the Flaming Lips double album Embryonic and Leyland Kirby’s triple disc Sadly, the Future is not what it was. Metafiction is a feat. Clocking in at a little over two hours, it covers a surprisingly limited terrain. This, however, works in the album’s favor when its main objective is to convey a sense of mood and gradual movement out of the dubstep ghetto rather than a stylistic showcase. The wonderful thing about the album’s monolithic sound is that there isn’t a bad track; instead burrowed within each one are delightful flourishes and nuances that make the album so enjoyable. A smooth jazz flute trills on top of a completely mellowed out DJ scratch on “Headspace,” which is one of those moments that in any other context would make you want to punch yourself in the face. In the hands of DFRNT, this is music to make love to.
If Metafiction, with all its collected sobriety and sexy new age pastiche, is any indication of where dubstep is headed in 2010, I am all aboard.

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