Berlin based drum and bass artist Tim Eliot (aka Current Value) returns with his seventh solo studio album Stay on This Planet for home city label “Subsistenz” – his second album for the label that is owned and ran by his ‘Machine Code’ production partner Dean Rodell.
Current Value is most famed for his collaborations with Icelandic electronic songstress Björk, probably the most influential female artist to have graced the field of electronic music in recent memory, on her award-winning Biophilia album (which UK readers will be familiar with recently due to the Channel 4 documentary with David Attenborough featuring said album) which saw the producer contribute his signature beats to the tune ‘Sacrifice’, along with music for the interactive app, as well as supplying two remixes to her remix album released last year, alongside top-of-their game luminaries such as LuckyMe’s Hudson Mohawke and Raster-Notons’s Alvo Noto.
Eliot’s career spans back well over a decade to 1998 when his debut album Frequency Hunt was released on exploratory German label ‘Position Chrome’. Since then he has collaborated with the crème-de-la-crème of the dark drum and bass scene (people like Tech Itch, Raiden, SPL and Limewax) as well as releasing on EDM giant Deadmau5’s ‘Mau5trap’ label—the tantalizingly good remix of Noisia ft Foreign Beggars’s ‘Purge’ – it is no stretch to conclude that Eliot’s prestige is second to none within his field.
However, over the past few years the harder edge of the genre, the one that Eliot occupies, has been on the wane. This is most probably due to a lack of activity from arguably the scene’s godfathers Nosia, who have seemingly been concentrating more on their EDM/electro styles recently, but also due to the rise in popularity of the frat orientated ‘bro-step’ dubstep sound—a genre that utilizes similar bass tones to the neuroid/neurofunk drum and bass that Current Value peddles—that has taken America by storm over the last few years now.
Drum and bass as a genre, which peaked and waned at the beginning of the century, has been threatening to make a comeback over the last year or so, perhaps due in part to the fact that people are now ostensibly getting bored with the continuing trend in bass music of lower and lower tempos and the want and need for faster more implicit music to get off their faces too on Friday and Saturday nights. Resultantly however, due to the above two points—fratboy bass tones/faster music—and perhaps due to the state that bass music as whole is in at the moment, sound and feel wise, the softer, more nuanced side of drum and bass is once again coming to the fore in favor of the once popular, dancefloor destroying neurofunk sound. I’m not talking liquid here, more the minimal, analogue edged Instrum:ental inspired sound that has saw producers flock too in their droves at the height of dBridge and co’s popularity a few years back, leaving many to believe the neuroid techno-influenced sound to be so mired in unapproachable, chin stroking extremes that it was just not worth exploring anymore—strip mined of all it innovations as it were, which, as Current Value shows, is blatantly not the case.
Happily though, Eliot’s Stay on This Planet manages to almost straddle the middle ground between sonic innovation and accessibility. The tunes are carved from solid steel sure, with intense, heavily modulated bass workouts dominating in the sound design department, whilst bouncy, crisp drums firmly tame the aggressive energy of the pitbull-esq low-end like a choke chain, stamping their authority down despite the fact that if the dog turns the owner has no chance.
The slippery, resampled bass tones, as you can imagine now, almost have a life of their own over the course of the 12 tracks on offer. They slither around, dip and dive, belch and wretch and generally run-amok with your speaker as they struggle for freedom. At points it is truly exhilarating to hear, and akin, methinks, to stroking a drugged up tiger in Thailand – you aren’t sure how long the drugs are going to last and if you are going to be the first person it sees when it returns to lucidity!
Obviously the bass isn’t all that is good about the sonic assault that is Stay on This Planet. The drums as already intimated roll along keeping the bass in check, like a cage holding a particularly pissed off predatory animal, and allow for a good old knees up shaking of the legs, whilst spectral effects whip in and out of focus giving the tunes a definite sense of time and place – albeit alien time and space! Moments of ambient bliss float up out of the soundscapes at key points throughout the album, breathing a sense of humanity into the oppressive robotic world Eliot has created. The sounds in general are full on but Eliot’s experience and deft touch ensure that nothing gets too out of hand and thusly inaccessible—a trap many experimental producers fall prey to.
All in all, Stay on This Planet is a thrilling ride to the edge of reason and back. It holds its own due to the juxtaposition of brutal basslines and sound design with the hard hitting, punchy yet straight-forward drum patterns designed with dancing, rather than chin-stroking, in mind. To have been able to pull off such a coup—the harnessing and controlling of the album’s dark, menacing aggression whilst retaining a definite clarity and forward motion to all the tracks is no mean feat.
The tracks although fairly dense are extremely focused and resolute, allowing for repeat listens. The sound design is cogent and all the tunes fit together well. Yet, if I had to level any criticisms at the album it would be that I would have perhaps liked to have heard a bit more over the course of the 12 tracks in terms of different sounds – the bass and noises in general are effective and do what they are supposed to, but at points verge on similar, as if the same sound source has been employed on multiple occasions but with different modulations and effects added to it. Also, and I’m not sure how many times you will hear this in an album review, I would have perhaps like to have heard a bit more filler as it is seemingly made up of banger after banger with little respite—save the last track. But these are small quibbles really. If you like your drum and bass hard, dark and techy whilst at the same time being able to enjoy a dance to it, then Stay on This Planet is definitely for you.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.