It’s possible to disappear completely into Ikonika’s synth-painted soundscapes.
Chris Power 2010
From the vantage point offered by her first album, you can trace the distinctive quality of Sara Abdel-Hamid’s productions all the way from her debut 12-inch, 2008’s Please. But while her four releases to date have all boasted unusual hooks that snag your attention, parts of Contact, Want, Love, Have feature synth-painted soundscapes into which it’s possible to disappear completely.
Rhythmically, most of these tracks operate in the zone of relative freedom leftfield dubstep has carved out for itself between 130 and 140bpm. The Afro and Latinate drum patterns of UK funky are scattered throughout (most notably on the hectic tumble of Psoriasis), as are woozy, Dilla-esque touches on the off-beats. But the basic framework remains dubstep’s 2-step snap.
Foundational as the rhythms are, they lie a distant second in priority to the melodies and synth textures that form the heart of Ikonika’s project. At their most expansive, as with the strafing arcs of Fish, the effect of these combined elements can be almost overwhelming: it’s as if the insistent pop of the woodblock percussion is the only thing lashing you to the ground in a fluorescent squall.
The blissful semi-slumber of Continue? is reminiscent of label-mate Cooly G’s Love Dub (Refix), but Ikonika’s promotion of synth lines positions her work closer to producers like Joker and Samiyam. As with Bristol’s Joker there’s a thick vein of 90s RnB informing Ikonika’s productions, and the way she approaches them suggests common ground shared with producers like Mount Kimbie associate James Blake, both in their own way reconfiguring soul and funk tropes into warm, weird, sometimes heartbreakingly broken post-garage shapes.
The chiptune catchiness of current single Idiot and other more club-oriented tracks aside, it’s when she’s working in these more uncertain, tangential spaces that Ikonika is at her best. The synth-string glissandos, strange animal groans and video game samples of R.E.S.O.L., for example, cohere so smoothly at first that the oddity of the various elements only occurs to you on later listens, and then stays with you, the track growing stranger with familiarity. This sensation, one of plunging through the surface’s sheen into deeper, stranger waters, is one that recurs several times throughout this impressive debut.