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Sub Swara

Triggers

(Low Motion; US: 9 Nov 2010; UK: 9 Nov 2010)

The idea of Sub Swara making a capital-A album, a finely hewn thing with 14 tracks between four and seven minutes in length, is sort of funny. Like Lorin “Bassnectar” Ashton, Sub Swara’s Dhruva Ganesan and Dave Sharma are big deal party disc jockeys with a goal no less enormous than “to engage and unite across cultural and musical borders.” The sprawl and overreach of the Brooklyn duo’s ideology parallels the music they make, a horizon-busting stomp that nonprofits might use in their advertisements imploring us to get off the couch and work for global change or something. Their big-electronic paces work well enough when they’re making mixtapes (they have two out as Triggers companions already), remixes for other artists (too many to count, Big Boi and Mos Def to name a couple notables), or mashups (Cee-Lo Green’s “Fuck You” smashed into Sub Swara’s “Fire It Up”)—ambitious shit. But even the most reckless, ADD-stricken record benefits from a little cohesion and restraint, in whichever forms they assume.


Here’s the rub: Triggers isn’t hyperactive at all, the way that, say, a Prefuse 73 record can be. You might even say it’s… sort of tame. Not a good sign. Sub Swara put the muzzles on somewhat for the album format, but the way they restrain themselves feels backwards. Rather than approaching Triggers with a more refined and efficient sensibility than they’d give to their DJ stints, what they actually did was leave off the subtleties. Where’s the sub-bass that everyone who’s been to their parties is talking about? I mean, it’s there, I can locate it, but since the sound as a whole is basically trying to punch your lights out, the essential lower and higher frequencies cease to make any difference. Triggers may not sound quite as one-dimensional as their dubstep misstep Coup d’Yah, but even when things are ricocheting between the channels, it’s the mid-range that sticks out most, like a sore thumb. Resultantly, Triggers ends up betraying a kind of blocky, sensational dullness.


What happens when you take a set of paints and mix white, yellow, purple, orange, cyan, chartreuse, and burnt sienna? That’s right, you get brown, and it’s also what you get when you mix “dubstep, dancehall, jungle, breakbeat, midtempo, and glitch-hop,” as Sub Swara say that they do on their brown-colored MySpace profile. Although these electronic subgenres aren’t as disparate as the paints in our example, it’s simply too many to combine with legitimacy. And yet, for all the purported stylistic innovation, Triggers shows a duo that, at least on record, appears completely behind the times. Stale and stuffed to the gills with dub/dancehall clichés—the spy theme banged out on the piano at the beginning of “Schemes”, the twittering and flatulence all over “October”, the tired refrain of their single “Bend You”—Triggers can’t be seriously thought of as having a “global sensibility,” or even much authenticity. Surely, Brooklyn has more cultural vibrancy than this. A few of these songs could make DJ /rupture cry.


Placed with great misfortune at the very end of the disc, only “Nectar”, a super-sexy dubstep jam with P-Funk singer Kendra Foster on the mic, got me to sit up and pay attention. That this gem, sticky with live guitar and sensuous keys like Loose Ends in 2157, appears where it’s most likely to be ignored makes Sharma and Ganesan look utterly confused in the full-length medium. No organization exists here, just throbbing chunks of skronk stacked atop one another. They don’t even feel like songs, really, but overblown sketches to be reconstituted into remixes and seemingly endless offshoots, as Sub Swara have already done. The finer points of music often get lost in most clubs, where the DJ’s job is to pump as much energy into as many people as possible. And that’s perfectly fine for that context, but an album is not a party. The transition from the club to the studio isn’t as easy as some might think, and Triggers is a good example of how the potholes inherent in such a venture can keep an album from getting off the ground.

Rating:

Mike has been a staff writer at PopMatters since 2009. He began writing music reviews for his college paper in 2005, where he cut his teeth as an arts editor and weekly columnist. He graduated from Vassar in 2008 and is pursuing a doctoral degree in clinical psychology. He is currently writing his dissertation on the role of rejection sensitivity in online infidelity, and lives with his incredible girlfriend in a wonderful shoebox apartment in Washington, DC.


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