Reviewed by Ian Roullier (Clash magazine)
All genres come with a musical blueprint that can serve to restrict and confine all but the steeliest artists. This applies to everything from identikit indie to formulaic dance fodder where music by numbers becomes the order of the day and creativity suffocates beneath boundaries and expectations.
Steve Milanese is one artist with enough strength to disregard any such rules, producing the music he wants to in the way he sees fit. His full debut outing, 'Extend', following on from 2004's '1 Up' mini-album, marks his move from Warp to the Planet Mµ label and sees him continue ripping genres to shreds, feeding them through the mincer before reconstituting them in barely recognisable forms. "I don't like doing one style of music," he explains. "I don't just write drum and bass or garage or grime or whatever. I like combining different styles of music and turning them upside down."
The results are by turns challenging, engaging and unsettling. Opener 'Mr Bad News' growls and stomps as an abrasive bassline is overlaid with alarm shrieks and filtered vocal bursts, its calm choral close giving the grimey aggression of Virus Syndicate collaboration 'Dead Man Walking' even more impact. From the pneumatic rap and harsh, swirling bass hits of 'Peggy Flynn III' to mangled drum and bass workouts 'Mr Ion' and 'Sight Beyond Sight' to the beatless atmospherics of 'One Eye', the tension is tangible and a paranoid edginess looms overhead.
"I definitely like provoking some sort of reaction," admits the Birmingham-based 29-year-old when asked if he likes to unsettle. "If I'm not then I think I've failed really. I don't really just want my music to be there in the background. I like music that you can listen to and you want to interact with it. It forces you to think about what's going on." He strengthens his sonic arsenal with some genuinely unique sounds conjured up by re-wiring keyboards picked up on eBay. "You can get some mad old sounds out of really old cheap stuff. Generally really horribly distorted stuff but some of it's great."
'Extend' is laced with tongue-in-cheek humour and lighter moments, however, such as the undulating bassline and simple, almost pop-like vocal snatch of 'Caramel Cognac' which ends with a celebratory, psychedelic jazz blast. Whatever the tone of the music though, stylistic boundaries are always wilfully ignored.
"I do definitely like to challenge what I think the cultural templates are we all have in place, how a piece of music should progress or its form etc," Milanese explains and he succeeds in his aim. 'Extend' has a playful unpredictability that constantly asks questions and leaves any preconceptions floundering.
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