Sub Focus feels a little unfocused on Torus, his second full-length release. It opens strong with the title track “Torus”, but fans of his work on the singles “Timewarp” or “Join the Dots” may be a little disappointed. Even prior to his initial self-titled release his work showed a positive but still savvy foothold in the drum-and-bass genre. There was no doubt that dropping either of those tracks in an underground club would lay waste to the dance floor. Torus, it seems, has its focus set entirely on the charts.
The direction was cemented when Nick Douwma signed Coco Sumner, lead singer of I Blame Coco and daughter of Sting, to record vocals for what would become a UK chart-topper, “Splash”. Again the track seemed to be rooted in and embraced by the drum-and-bass community, but there was no doubt that it crossed over in a big way. Despite the liquid bass wash and the hard beats on the chorus, there’s little left here of the more esoteric beginnings of his early singles. Torus takes that a step further still and perhaps more disappointingly uses many of the same sounds and effects.
“Safe in Sound”, while employing the rudimentary element of a fast break rhythm and the same washed out bass synths as many of the other most successful singles, features a great vocal hook by Seton Daunt of UK group Fiction Plane, as well as a very effective and moody sample by Mary O’Hara. “Endorphins” feels like more of a straight-ahead pop song with lines like, “Holding on some kind of miracle / I’ll be right there if you’re ever alone.” While guest vocals on electronic music records are par for the course these days, their presence can often attempt to cover for the inadequacies in the production itself. That seems to be what’s happening here. These tracks as well as “Out of the Blue” featuring “Alice Gold” hit all the same musical targets and as such come off as a little too consistent and boring.
Just as the record starts to lose you, the minimal electro-pop song “Twilight” wins you over. Taking a more smokey, laid-back vocal approach by Teemu Brumila played with a simplistic and minimal muted break, this song feels like one of the most unique and appealing on the record.
“Close”, featuring MNEK, reaches out to the R&B set before dropping into an electro-house groove—which may stand strong within that community, but given that they may not be the ones buying this record, it seems a little out of place. Nevertheless, it’s clear at this point that if the record could be said to have one notable feature it’s increasing diversity. Sub Focus appears to want to leave no subgenre unrepresented. Bring on the dubstep, then…
“Turn It Around”, featuring the ever unmistakable Bloc Party vocals of Kele, has some understated bass drones over a pedestrian drumstep rhythm that varies between half-step dub speed and a full-on break. “Falling Down” is a much more committed and obvious foray into the increasingly ubiquitous and now overused sound of commercial dubstep and, as such, comes off as a little bit dated. Deadmau5 already tilled this soil with “Raise Your Weapon”.
After all this it should be no surprise that they break out the steel drum and rock drums for “Out of Reach” or the house music for “Turn Back Time”. There are a few great singles on this record that seem targeted to chart well, but the whole thing feels slave to many and master of no particular genre. It’s not for the hardcore heads, but it might sound nice to have some of that underground sound showing up on daytime radio.