Even as they’re busy with equally provocative electronic records in separate solo side projects, New York City producers Travis Stewart and Praveen Sharma deal an aurally dense and lively full-length as Sepalcure in 2011. They one-upped progressive breakout four-songer Love Pressure with an absorbing EP called Fleur earlier this year, and the self-titled LP follows strongly the ambient house/bass-driven beat sound they’ve been turning out since 2009. On their own, Stewart and Sharma reference the winning, inventive aesthetic for which they’ve become known as a duo, with notable and compelling productions under separate solo monikers Machinedrum and Braille, respectively.
Travis “Machinedrum” Stewart’s Room(s) is one of the more elaborate and satisfying headphone listens in 2011. Jungle-inspired grooves on Room(s) rattle around on a bed of tape hiss and vinyl pops, with guitar strums occasionally rising to the fore between the record’s rhythmic stutter. Flourishes like this are rampant on the Sepalcure LP, and, just as their album does in tracks like “Yuh Nuh See”, Room(s) owes to footwork, a Chicago-born dance style that the Planet Mu label catalogued impressively with several releases since 2010’s Bangs & Works Vol. 1, even if its impenetrable dash of drum spasms and staccato vocal drops drives me absolutely nuts. Stewart gushed via an all-things-juke late 2010 LuckyMe mix, which is a perpetually high-intensity missive with enough spark to even snag and sustain the attention of those who can’t be bothered to get down with this stuff. The mix in places mirrors similarly frenetic sample patchwork on Sepalcure, as well as in recent hip-hop productions he did for motormouth Harlem MC Azealia Banks.
As Braille, Praveen Sharma deals atmospheric, blanketing house. A full-length from him along these lines would be more discernible from the Sepalcure stuff than Room(s) is, but the emphasis on varied beat sounds can definitely be heard on his work with Stewart. Sharma’s hypnotic club track “The Year 3000” dropped in February for Netherlands-based Rush Hour Direct Current, and EP A Meaning for Hotflush followed, where he probes comparably straight floor-ready house that’s even more built-out, surging with thick melodic synth stabs and mixed-bag percussive accompaniment. On his own, Sharma (and Stewart as well) is driven to bend vocal cut-ups into grotesque, sometimes guttural forms that are as much a part of his heady records as, say, kicks. He attributed the art of making MC pitch-shifts “cool ... in recent years” to Burial in a Time Out New York piece, but Sepalcure are improving upon such experiments with great success, even amid bass music producers who are exhausting the technique’s appeal.
Dabbling in house/UK garage hybrids has certainly come into fashion, but on Sepalcure’s album, there’s an unmistakably psychedelic but tender feel established by the two industrious heads at the mixing board that proves both refreshing and resonant as the playing time is wound down. Choral parts on the debut are manipulated into textures that become critical to the brew. Heady, propulsive collaborations between Stewart and Sharma come to fruition around a track’s core lyrical sample (“The One”, “See Me Feel Me”) and seemingly on separate occasions, the artists are collaborating by accident – a close listen to the latter’s “Leavin’ Without You” (on The Year 3000 12-inch) reveals a vocal sample in play that also appeared on Stewart’s Room(s).
Haunting Sepalcure closer “Outside” is still and loaded with sampler-banked vocals. It’s a powerful answer to Fleur‘s “Inside” – with cricket chirps and organ chords swarming, the adjourning entry’s reliance on slowed house MC bits renders Sepalcure cross-national cousins of Manchester, UK, producer Holy Other. While subtle night critter sounds also bookend the act’s “Deep City Insects”, an older cut that appears on the recent Frite Nite comp Surreal Estate, they seep right into the mess of ghostly human calls on “Outside”, giving way to an otherworldly and beatless blend of keys within the first few seconds.
The rest of the record is ever-shuffling, however, with unpredictable rhythmic shifts and disparate drum sounds. Curt synths and borrowed vocals are front and center, but these are considered, melody-rich tracks that don’t pander with ludicrous set peaks for large crowds. Tightly wound snaps patter beneath “Eternally Yrs”, and “Carrot Man” owes to innovative percussive touches all around, with sets of metal pings, hand claps, and urgent rhythms all worked into the mix. Deep tech sonics fizzle under analog warmth for this engaging LP, where Sepalcure demonstrate an outgrowth and combination of dub sounds, techno, and house so rife with flashy ideas that it’s a miracle it actually works as well as it does.