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Artist: Sepalcure

Album: Sepalcure

Label: Hotflush

Review date: Dec. 2, 2011


Sepalcure - "Pencil Pimp" (Sepalcure)


It’s almost presupposed that the mention of bass music in 2011 refers to the U.K. variant. The British scene’s momentum, hurling forth single after single, is pretty staggering (I can’t even begin to keep up with the number of killer Boiler Room appearances). But that geographical prefix is becoming more necessary given the crop of young American producers recording for U.K. post-dubstep labels. Acts like FaltyDL, Kingdom, NGUZUNGUZU, and even Toronto’s Egyptrixx are continually dropping interesting takes on bass. Brooklyn’s Travis Stewart and Praveen Sharma, who record independently as Machinedrum and Braille, respectively, started Sepalcure last year, releasing two EPs, Love Pressure and Fleur, on Hotflush Recordings. The duo’s debut LP for the label fits snuggly inline with those earlier works, and squares nicely with British labelmates Mount Kimbie.

Back in August, Dusted’s Brad LaBonte managed to thoroughly explain some of the pitfalls of Machinedrum’s Room(s) LP, in the context of bass music vs. IDM. The urban, of-the-moment trappings of bass pitted against suburban/academic IDM is indeed an ugly notion — but it’s indicative of just how pluralistic modern dance music has become, where genres subsume and reference one another. Sepalcure isn’t tossed-off nor contrived, thankfully. Instead, it manages to appropriate Chicago shuffle, 2-step, garage, ’90s house and R&B into a vortex of modern bass that’s easy on the ears. Take the opening “Me,” wherein the contemporary U.K. stylings — tricky syncopations, warm house-y synth loops, diva vocal snippets, and the familiar 130-140bpm tempos — coalesce. It’s nothing new, I suppose, but it’s mature and as such seems to find a delicate balance between wallflower and dancefloor appeal.

Here, Stewart has toned down the insurmountable layering tendencies found throughout Room(s), while Sharma has dropped some of the cheesy aspects of his Braille moniker. (Although, for my money, nothing here hits the highs of his dance floor devastator, “The Year 3000.”) They’ve convincingly channeled the London sound via Brooklyn, where they recorded the album during two weeks, employing analogue gear instead of out-of-the-box or plug-in sources, and it pays off with a warmer sound.

Dark atmospheres take top priority, and sweeter moments like “Fleur,” from their last EP, are rare. That song’s incredible mbira loop, lush chords and striking arrangements won over listeners because it was soulful and complex. On Sepalcure, Burial’s ghosts (vinyl crackle, trademark rim shot, pitched vocal pads) continue their inevitable transition from revelation to cliché on more than a few songs. (By contrast, FaltyDL’s work comes across as all the more refreshing, with his truly American take on bass music.) Elsewhere, Africa HiTech seems to have directly inspired songs like “Hold On” and “Eternally Yrs,” sharing common ground with Mark Pritchard’s dub-inspired groove.

There are even some pop-aspects to Sepalcure, most notably on “The One,” which could serve as a potential follow-up to lead single “Pencil Pimp.” On the former, a vocal refrain of “You are the one” is coated in vinyl hiss and staggered throughout the four-on-the-floor hustle, fuzzy synth line and muddy bass. The latter bumps up the tempo, with pitched vocal groans every eight bars and more pronounced breakdowns — carrying just enough momentum to make it through its six minutes.

Ultimately, it’s hard to embrace Sepalcure. The record has received some critical acclaim, and as far as stateside bass music goes, Sepalcure deserve the attention. But something is missing, something that I hear in Egyptrixx’s Bible Eyes and FaltyDL’s Atlantis, and I think I know what it is — risk.

By Jon Dempsey

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