An exhilarating debut album from Leon Smart’s DVA alias, full of complexity.
Ian Roullier 2012-03-06
Having played a major part in London’s scene-shaping Rinse FM and produced his own unique takes on both grime and UK funky, Leon Smart has now put together his debut album under his DVA alias. Pretty Ugly takes influences from hip hop, soul, funk, dub, techno and pop; but when viewed through DVA’s aural kaleidoscope and dusted in interference, glitches and dirt, these elements take on a different appearance altogether.
The raft of guest vocalists may offer smooth deliveries, but these are then roughened by the underlying rhythms that stagger, stutter and consistently dodge any expected patterns. The conventional beats that deceptively usher in Polyphonic Dreams are followed by a singular set of undulating synth bleeps that build and rise until the track crashes into an analogue, almost ravey, finale. DVA demonstrates a knack for simplicity in his overall ideas but somehow adds layers of complexity when executing those ideas.
And this is where the album lives up to its name. While there may be a gentle, harmonic soul that runs throughout, Smart adds imperfections and injects flaws into any surrounding beauty. It's this mixture of the rough and the smooth that works so well and constantly maintains interest.
These elements are carefully juxtaposed both within tracks like Fire Fly, with its scattered percussion but sweetly struck chorus from Zaki Ibrahim, and throughout the album overall, where, for example, the flowing yet dark-hearted title-track is followed by the driving dub bassline of Bare Fuzz. At its simplest, these contrasts are evident at the start of the Little Dragon-esque Why U Do, where summer birdsong is met by the harsh crackle of vinyl. Recent single Madness, featuring Vikter Duplaix, is a more straightforward affair, though still not without added quirks.
Faux strings and brass bring an album of many highlights and contrasts to a dramatic close. Rich in its emotional scope, Pretty Ugly is the sound of a man with an intricate understanding of the nuances of lightness and darkness, and it makes for a consistently engaging and at times exhilarating listen.