A frequently fantastic, weighty, clever and emotionally involving LP from the NYC duo.
Rory Gibb 2011-12-02
Over the last 18 months or so, the absorption of outside influences into dubstep’s template has reached critical mass. Gradual assimilation of house, techno, 2-step and Chicago juke has collapsed boundaries, resulting in the array of 'bass music' forms currently hogging dancefloors. Machinedrum and Praveen Sharma's collaborative project Sepalcure has been one of the more interesting results. Their earlier EPs melded samples and textures more readily associated with 'classic' house music with dubstep's weight and mood. Their debut full-length continues the same trend, but ups the ante, putting a host of other elements into play. The most obvious throughout is juke/footwork, whose stammering rhythms and rapid-fire tempos also acted as the basis for Machinedrum's solo album Room(s), released earlier this year.
Sepalcure, interestingly, suffers from the same problem as Room(s). Its blurred textures, shifting rhythms and darting voices are beguiling over the course of a few tracks, but when stretched out to album length result in a homogenous listen. Nothing here is bad – far from it, in fact. It's just that taken over a full hour's length, tracks have a slightly jarring tendency to blur into a single, drawn-out whole, making it too easy to allow the album to fade into the background. That’s not helped by the fact that the duo's overly melodic sound makes for rather polite music, stripped of the gritty edges that made early dubstep so involving.
That said, there’s much to love about this set. Taken as a collection of tracks rather than an 'album' per se (i.e. something you'd listen to and absorb from start to finish), some of its contents are little short of gorgeous. Like friend and fellow New Yorker FaltyDL, Sharma and Machinedrum excel at reminding the listener of the strong base connections between different forms of dance music. In their hands, UK-born styles like jungle, 2-step and dubstep are contextualised as limbs of a larger continuum stretching backward to the genesis of house and techno in the US, and forward to juke's hyper-accelerated motion and rhythmic complexity. Single Pencil Pimp is a great example. Rattling along at a bracing 150-odd beats per minute, the duo use drawn-out voices and synth to transform its manic rhythms into something altogether more relaxing, a trick that UK ambient junglists like LTJ Bukem were exploiting to similar effect in the 90s. And highlight Breezin offers evidence that the duo's additive approach can yield fantastic, physically involving results – beginning life as ragged, staggering funk, it slowly gathers rhythmic momentum until it reaches a state of blissful freefall.
Sepalcure, then, feels very much like a mirror held up to the current state of post-dubstep music. It's frequently fantastic, weighty, clever and emotionally involving, but strangely polite, and lacking in a sense of overall purpose and direction. The potential's there – it's just not been fully harnessed yet.