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Vex’d - Cloud Seed

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Artist: Vex’d

Album: Cloud Seed

Label: Planet Mu

Review date: Apr. 16, 2010

The duo Vex’d were among the first of the dubstep generation of producers to collect their work on a full album. Degenerate was assembled in 2005, around the time these childhood friends had moved to Bristol to soak up the birthplace of the electronics that had inspired them. Their work together has been sporadic since, but the spooks+jackhammers of tracks like “Crusher Dub” have resonated widely. Maybe even back to the source: Portishead’s “Machine Gun” gets its stun from the same mix of unnatural snares and lovely ambiance.

Cloud Seed collects remixes and polishes what was unfinished since Vex’d has been working independently. Had they neglected to reveal that this record started life as a postscript, it would be hard to tell. No leftovers here. Track for track, this is even stronger than Degenerate, assembling a range of approaches into one hour-long flow.

They open and close with their biggest blasts, industrial and heavy-metal motors dropped into different chassis. “Take Time Out” starts like some slow machine pushing granite blocks up a hill, trudging along like a slow and cocky instrumental. There’s a pause, then in comes Warrior Queen with her for apocalyptic field-hollering, and the same mechanical beat is revealed to be dancehall slowed down to a traffic jam. “Nails” shuts down the record with a fast and small tapping, a clean sound that accumulates sheets of feedback and distant demon voices. Those bookends are heavier than what comes in between, and are closest to the pummeling delivery Vex’d is known for.

Much of Cloud Seed is restrained in comparison, if equally dark. There’s a war zone tale from rapper Jest, easygoing murk that’s like the testimonies on the Bug’s London Zoo, but with an American accent. They take over a number from fellow metallic stepper Distance, with a remix that concentrates on vocals, a looping clip that becomes a chant. As the voice hypnotizes, plunging midrange opens up the track cinematically. There’s a torch song, too, with the sort of “Bond Theme” details that Portishead was working with before their hiatus. Rays of light regularly shine through the thick blankets of bass. The threat that brutal beats could break out at any time make those dusty rays all the more exquisite. It brings tension to indefinite tones.

What’s nearly obliterated at this point is any sort of Jamaican roots to the music. An echoing clatter here or there counts as upstrokes, and a lone “Jah” dissipates into the clouds on "Out of the Hills." But then there’s not really room for a particular genre to dominate, as shards of strings quartets and Bollywood sink under the waves of bass. Vex’d shape this all into a cohesive sound. Let’s hope it’s not the last time these two empty out the garage and swap fragments.

By Ben Donnelly

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