The explosion of new sounds emanating from London’s electronic underground in the last few years has culminated in a kind of fragmentation through fusion: Scenes splinter as sounds crossbreed. Dubstep has been the go-to source for the genesis of it all and, until now, we’ve had a lot of excellent artists making tremendous EPs or 12”s, but only moderately successful albums. Hotflush Recordings is not above this – label owner Paul Rose, a.k.a. Scuba, released Triangulation earlier this year. It is a uniformly interesting album and a step in the right direction but still too much of a techno traditionalist to garner universal appeal.
Dominic Maker and Kai Campos of label mate Mount Kimbie, however, have taken that step. Crooks & Lovers, the duo’s debut full-length, is their open-arms RSVP and an ultimate document of London’s post-dubstep promise.
Which is different than saying Crooks & Lovers is post-dubstep, because there aren’t any songs on here that reinvent the wheel, per se. You’ll recognize the wobbly bass of “Blind Night Errand” from any given dubstep club night out. The usual cascading decay of synths on “Ruby” can be found on most any other electro album of this stripe from the last two years. It’s no surprise there are vague videogame sounds from another room on “Ode to Bear.” Mount Kimbie traffics in echo at least as much as, say, Burial or 2562.
The most appealing aspect of this group (and this goes back to their breakthrough with the Mary Anne Hobbs-approved “Maybes”) is that they prove their worth by not associating with any one sound for more than a few moments at a time. Crooks & Lovers plays a relentless form of genre hopscotch, darting between 1980s funk and tinkling childlike pop whimsy on a dime (“Mayor”) or field recordings and Flying Lotus beats (“Would Know”). That on its own is commendable, sure, but what seals the deal is that they do this fluidly, that they make it sound so effortless.
Though songs barely exceed four minutes, this isn’t really a singles album. “Field” was the first leak and its owl hoots are brilliant in their own right, but the highlight of this duo’s incredible ability to transition from style to style is on “Before I Move Off,” which strangely sits as the third song on the album when it feels more like the realization of the other 10. A plucked, echoing acoustic guitar line juxtaposes with another, clearer loop that moves from atonality into the most memorable melody of the album, pitched-up vocals sliced to bits in rhythm to form a broken chorus. This is the kind of song that turns a skeptic to a believer. Alongside “Maybes,” it’s the pinnacle of what they’ve accomplished, and is easily among 2010’s best songs. If you didn’t notice it pass, that’s probably because it doesn’t stand out until a second or third listen. Even when it feels out of place in theory, in practice I never find myself wishing the sequencing was different.
The palette Mount Kimbie is using, and the subtle ways in which they move around components of songs, is their most obvious gift to a scene with so many ideas and directions, no one has yet figured out its direction or even ascribed it a label. Everything from dubstep to techno to R&B to indie-rock to free-jazz is represented, one snippet at a time. Crooks and Lovers is 35 minutes of fragmentation through fusion, or more succinctly, an abridged explanation of why we bother keeping up.
By Patrick Masterson