Pangaea is most arresting when he delivers club cuts that drag in unexpected directions. Hex, from last year’s Hemlock release, was perhaps the greatest distillation of that sound. Its rolling rhythms and undulating bass mixed with the digital stutters of MC hype to perfectly capture the sweaty euphoria of a dark club at capacity. Yet by about 3 minutes in, dissonant synth swells build and the damaged vocals suddenly sound claustrophobic and alienating. The same thing happens half way through Inna Daze when Mr McCauley wilfully tosses his own rhythms into a bleak, unforgiving landscape.
Such a unpredictable sound palette has consistently given McCauley an edge, allowing him to keep ploughing new furrows through a dark and minimal dubstep style many abandoned years ago. His music rarely seems like a zeitgeisty tool to keep people moving for a few months before finding its way to the back of the crate or the bottom of the [insert name of popular DJ software here] playlist. Rather, it is designed specifically to catch people off guard. Each song is able to slither comfortably into dubstep sets before swiftly highlighting how distinct and interesting it actually is. Much of this seems to arise from his intensely precise approach, sculpting individual songs over months and avoiding the temptation to pad out his rhythms with the dangerous keyboard combo of Ctrl+c and Ctrl+v.
This latest collection of eight tracks has been penned as a “double EP” (specifically not an album) by Hessle. This is a wise – where McCauley has crafted a tightly cohesive sound in his twelve inch output, release reflects a more disjointed range of sounds, flowing between tracks in a fairly random fashion. McCauley has admitted as much himself, stating in FACT that “the process of making it and overall sound design hasn’t been as focussed as I’d want a debut album to be”. This is somewhat disappointing for those who would like to see McCauley tackle the complexities involved in making an engaging full length (I include myself in this pseudo-camp). Yet the upside is that it allows each track to be judged as individually crafted ideas designed specifically for gloomy club floors.
Many tracks fulfill this role brilliantly. Time Bomb propels a minimal melody through a taut framework of rolling kicks and flailing wooden noises. Aware takes a bassline through a dizzying series of modulations. At its peak, release is disorientating, thrilling and characteristically restless. McCauley also comes alive in the curve ball finale High. Amidst a cosy bath of ambience he rips apart a soulful vocal into a lurid mass of noise which sustains for far longer than is comfortable.
Yet in other places, release loses its edge and falters in its attention to detail. Game thrusts open the album with a punctuated, staccato rhythm but ends up meandering around a fairly uninspiring Missy Elliot sample. Middleman exploits a rhythm which is too tired to rejuvenate at this stage in the bass music game, and it fails to travel far from its rigid structure. Majestic 12 is just too intense and brash. In these moments, release appears to reflect a concerted effort towards a more spontaneous approach, a desire to move away from an obsession with perfection. This is a laudable aim, but when the unexpected twists McCauley usually throws at us are conspicuously absent it feels too great a sacrifice.
4. Majestic 12
5. Time Bomb