iTAL tEK - Midnight Colour
Reviewed by Matt Fernell Source: (The Silent Ballet)
Ever since its inception, Planet Mu has been a wickedly sinister and terrifying place: a world inhabited by intelligent maniacs wielding aural weapons of startling power and troubling menace. Take Venetian Snares as a prime example. For many years a stalwart of the Mu roster, Aaron Funk has produced some of the most truly worrying music of the last decade. Whether it be the majestic genius of the pigeon-inspired Rossz Csillag Alatt Szuletett, or the all-round horror show that was last year's Filth, Funk, like so many of his stable mates, is a confrontational artist who revels in inviting his listeners to the very darkest edge of their sanity. After his first long player for the label, Cyclical, it looked as though Brighton's Alan Myson, aka iTAL tEK, would be another flag bearer of this terror-drenched ethos. However, on his sophomore effort, Midnight Colour, Myson has reduced the bpm and lightened up the mood a little. Gone are the gloom and decay that inspired much of Cyclical, replaced by colour, melody and beauty.
The state of dubstep is a pretty hot topic these days. Many have been ringing the death knell for this relatively young genre in recent months, diagnosing over-commercialisation as the cancer that is killing the scene. It is fair to say that with every Dubstep Bangers! compilation that is released its credibility does diminish. What iTAL tEK is serving up on Midnight Colour, however, is at the other end of the spectrum to the Ibiza floor fillers. Myson himself cites Warp and IDM as what got him excited about music in his early teens, and those influences can certainly be appreciated throughout this record. Midnight Colour would sit perfectly between the catalogues of Warp and Planet Mu, taking inspiration from each in equal measure. The heavy bass and wonky beats are unmistakable, but this almost feels more like a futuristic, electronic adventure of an album, as opposed to simply another ambitious dubstep offering.
Emphasis is placed on atmosphere from start to finish. Those who like their bass music dark and grimy will be left feeling a little short-changed. When the bass is thick and heavy, it tends to be juxtaposed against high, singing keys and synths. Across Midnight's 50-odd minutes and 13 tracks, Myson manages to cover a heck of a lot of ground without ever losing the sense of continuity. "Neon-Arc" opens the album with crunching bass lines and synths, and although there is a sense of foreboding, the melody driven out of these deep vibrations is just sweet enough to prevent things from descending into darkness. "Talis" is the first real indication that iTAL tEK has moved on and grown up. Noticeably slower than anything off Cyclical, it paints a lush soundscape with minimal beats and a glitchy melody of retro keys, reminiscent of Four Tet in delivery. "Moon Bow" flows and stumbles irresistibly over a much quicker beat and stuttering electro melody, all the time borrowing stargazing atmosphere off "Talis".
Sonic excursions like the bass-heavy but almost beat-free "Satellite" offer the most obvious examples of the Warp influence. It has the deep, submarine warble and dark drama that would feel right at home in the mid-nineties electronic scene. What Myson achieves so often is this seamless melding of dreamscape electronics and deep basslines and syncopated beats. It is this combination that makes the likes of "Subgiant" and "Black and White" such beguiling offerings. As a result Midnight Colour is not a dancefloor record, but one far more suited to the headphone experience. The latter stages of the album do feature a few potential dance moments; "Moment in Blue" is one remix away from clubland, and the title track certainly shuffles with renewed intent. However, these feel like natural undulations and changes of pace rather than obvious attempts at club hits. It is what Myson leaves till last that many will find the most satisfying. Drawing the record to a close after a relatively high-octane final sprint is the magical "Restless Tundra", featuring Anneka's hauntingly beautiful vocals. It is a glacial and atmospheric emotional punch to the gut, and illustrates that iTAL tEK is about so much more than moody dubstep introspection.
Midnight Colour illustrates one fact quite clearly; dubstep certainly isn't dead. A continually emerging breed of producers is are still pushing the genre forward, even if the mass market seems intent of smashing it into the ground. Acts such as stablemate Vex'd and Mount Kimbie are still making music that is getting people excited, and iTAL tEK should be expected to do the same thing. Like its artwork, Midnight Colour is world of dark, unknown landscapes and bright, vibrant, and wondrous colour. Few record labels have done as much as Planet Mu to nurture and encourage the growth of dubstep, and although iTAL tEK is maybe becoming a little too pleasant and considerate for the imprint, Planet Mu has still got another exciting and important act on its books.
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