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Terror Danjah - Dark Crawler

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Artist: Terror Danjah

Album: Dark Crawler

Label: Hyperdub

Review date: Nov. 21, 2012

Terror Danjah’s bass music isn’t half-lit. His blaring strobes make him an unusual member of the Hyperdub sound. Titling a track “Baby Oil” suggests a kind of sensuality that doesn’t fit with the streetlamps and wet sidewalks of most of his labelmates. (Indeed, that track is guided by a happy little flute figure.) There are shadows, but they’re the like shadows Bob Ross would scrape onto his canvas, making snow-tipped trees all the brighter. The rhythms are breakbeat frenetic, but melodies could have been pulled intact from 1970s soul. Like the other producers Kode9 chooses for the label, he’s a minimalist who knows how to weave ice-shard treble and wooly low-end. But he’s the only one of ‘em where the hyper outweighs the dub.

Since he’s not trying to hone an overarching style, Danjah is faced with a challenge when collecting his work for an album. On his first full-length, Undeniable, he used the form to play with production more freely than marquee tracks might allow. That album’s “S.O.S.” is a good example of how to make a dance joint work in the middle of a long player — mostly Prince funk squiggles, with unpredictable dropouts and halts on the offbeat like musical chairs yanked mid-game. The tempo veers all over the place; it’s long and full of tricks, not the kind of thing he could expect another DJ to feature. But in Terror Danjah’s world, where the rubbery meets the raw, it makes perfect sense.

Dark Crawler tries a different approach. Actually, a few of them. Almost half the cuts are versions of the title number. It is a strange beast — part jock jam rev-up, part asymmetric strings. MCs take guest turns, and with such a dense and soundtrackish thing, it’s interesting to hear how they attempt to fit in. Riko Dan, who goes for straight ragga delivery, is the most successful. Unlike the three vocalist face-offs that comes later, he doesn’t fight the rip tide. He finds a strict cadence to lock in on, and lets the storm crash around him. Danjah’s pressure-cooker challenge would make for entertaining primetime material.

Between the “Crawlers” appear sparser, single-worthy tracks (a few were released that way already). “Full Hundred” gets a ton of friction going between sawtooth synth and handclaps. The other sounds — drum rolls and police whistles — add up to a playground party. The other spots where he confines himself to a beat and a synth have the same instant appeal. Further up the pop ladder, there’s breathy chanteuse numbers. Meleka’s “You Make Me Feel” is too wispy, with the intertwining harmonies dissipating before a hook takes hold. Ruby Lee Ryder is given some rawer backing — an eight-count crack, skittering grime beats — and the longstanding British method of mirroring American R&B through a tarnished mirror takes hold.

Dark Crawler is exactly the sum of the parts, and the three side aren’t obviously sympathetic with each other. It’s one part dancehall riddim record, one part vocal pop, and one part club beats. He’s been working the third category the longest, and it’s still the center of his strengths. But the ingredients that make up Dark Crawler are a tasty mix, and Danjah could do worse than keep cooking with this recipe.

By Ben Donnelly

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