Before there was a step to affix to it, there was just dub. Originating in Jamaica in the ’60s, dub grew out of reggae as a style led by drum, bass, reverb, eclectic electronic tricks, and minor tics like triplets and the one-drop rhythm. We’re a long way from King Tubby and Burning Spear these days, of course. One look at deep bass music and you’ll need another just to count the number of splinter genres — and not just from dub, but from dubstep, too. It’s almost impossible to keep up with the number of new sicko cells crystallizing in the back alleys of East London, beneath the smog blanketing Los Angeles, and anywhere else with access to a computer and a couple of keyboards.
Solomon Rose, b.k.a. Silkie, doesn’t betray much of that knowledge on City Limits, Volume 2. The first volume, which followed years of 12” singles, blended the buzzy heaviness of early generation dubstep with, at times, annoyingly smooth jazz touches. On Volume 2, you get the sense that artist development isn’t a belief to which Silkie subscribes.
Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Though Resident Advisor noted this in reference to his sets, it also applies to his music: Silkie knows his own slightly conservative sound very well. He has a very clear idea of what he wants his songs to sound like, and it always shows. “Outlook” still uses piano and gently noodling keys in a largely optimistic outro. Saxophones keep popping up on songs like “Snowed In,” “Untitled” and “Taxi Me Get.” They’re painful at times, but the man has a plan.
It’s a fine line, of course. There’s almost no variation in tempo here and, like the first City Limits LP, guests rarely seem to impose much of their own touch on the music. Truth, Von D and Skream all make cameos, but none of their collaborative efforts bear fruit that differs from the norm. “Rock Da Funk” and “New York City” are probably the most distinctive songs on Volume 2 for the simple fact that they err less on the side of trip-hop caution and more on the distinctive funk influences of the early- to mid-’80s. Imagine Dam-Funk if he were at all interested in dubstep and that’s what you’d have with those songs.
Between the strong similarities in the songs and the hour-plus runtime, City Limits Volume 2 is a nice showcase for people who yearn for an artist whose music hasn’t morphed into the blue-eyed soul of James Blake or the 8-bit videogame chintz of Ikonika or whatever buzzword-obsessed teens on YouTube are passing off as “dubstep remixes” nowadays. It’s obvious Silkie is a talented guy, but those with any awareness of the numerous factions dubstep has split into will find themselves left wanting for something more unpredictable. Silkie smooth and reassuring, yes. Paradigm-refining, no.