Macc and dgoHn are drum ‘n’ bass producers whose presence on the Rephlex roster suggests they were handpicked by label co-founder Aphex Twin, and that would be a distinction indeed. Unhappily, I must report that whatever it is that makes them so compelling to the so-called “braindance” imprint isn’t made readily apparent by their first full-length release as a team, charmingly titled Some Shit Saaink.
Maybe it’s a genre thing, because these are above all else genre cuts. If you didn’t have to Wikipedia “drum ‘n’ bass” a paragraph ago, you probably know the drill by now. Dystopian atmospherics fade in; jittery breakbeats break out of nowhere; ad nauseum for anywhere from 5 to 9 minutes. Faceless Rod Serling-types, fembots, and tinkly pianos make muffled mutters every now and then, drenched in delay, but that’s about as human as it gets. Not that it needs to be human at all. It’s just that it bears all the canned markers of the modern metal machine music you can imagine blaring from the basement laboratory of a crazed techno wunderkind like Aphex Twin.
It would be dishonest to let that reductive description rot and linger like so much rockist chauvinism, though. Credit must be given where credit is due, and the fierce, skull-snapping beats on Some Shit Saaink are certainly due some credit. The press notes make a mountain identifying Macc and dgoHn’s lineage in free-jazz impresarios like Art Blakely and Buddy Rich, and while that isn’t inconsistent with the way electronic music aggrandizes itself when untrained ears (read: naïve critics) are present, it’s not entirely unwarranted. The bullet train velocity of that drum and that bass is hectic in that heart-pounding way of the amphetamine-fueled drum solos it imitates (and presumably samples).
But it would also be dishonest to give a recommendation based on that single, albeit central, part of this album’s sound. Like meth, the beats gathered here create the illusion of motion while remaining perfectly still. They lurch but never really go anywhere. The only time I’ve listened to Some Shit Saaink and really been able to submit to it front-to-back was during the hour-plus drive home from Manhattan not too long ago, which is telling: I needed actual forward movement to complete the experience. Without any concessions to a layman’s listening needs—say, a melody—it seems less like a use of this particular sound, and more like this particular sound for its own sake.
So what I’m left with is a verdict that veers frustratingly close to “it’s just not really my cup of tea,” which is such a bummer. Why keep an open mind at all if some music will always close itself off to me? It’s also not entirely true. As a stoned teenager, I found LTJ Bukem’s mellow jungle positively mind-blowing—although a lot of things were as a stoned teenager. Now, when I hear the same stainless steel cyber-thriller ambience recorded in 2010, I’m forced to wonder if this is really so compelling for bass-heads that the slightest deviation—to something genuinely frightening, perhaps, or at least more specific—would alienate Macc and dgoHn’s fanbase. Or their contract with Rephlex. One would hope not.
Since these problems—corny sub-Matrix mindscapes, compositional stasis—afflict the entire record, it’s nearly pointless to single out songs I liked. But I’ll try anyway. “Bamba” bookends its percussion phrases with cinematic harps that give it a kind of mad scientist urgency. “Gever” is a reminder—if a subtle one—that these beats do shift and morph, all the while keeping a sinister straight face. And “Mustard Greens” features a rounded trio of closed hi-hat taps that locks steps with rhythmic radar bloops for the album’s best groove by far. But even that groove wears out its welcome eventually.
And that’s the story of this album’s life. At album length, it’s a challenge. Perhaps that’s exactly what attracted Rephlex’s attention. But that challenge is posed to our collective attention span, which is a pretty tired adversary, while sci-fi generics are upheld like the aesthetic necessity they aren’t. I maintain that the opposite scenario would be much more interesting and certainly more recommendable. As for now, Some Shit Saaink is crisp, cool, and deeply frantic (or frantically deep). It stands head and shoulders above the Eurotrash landfill when it comes to spazzing when no one is watching.