[11 July 2012]
Almost as if on cue, Hotflush label head Paul Rose (Scuba) has produced a record that is only minimally informed by the new-era dubstep his imprint helped usher in, just as the genre appears to be taking its last breaths (for now). Instead, Personality features a breadth of styles, many of them quite retro, like old school electro, acid house, and late-80s British ambient. Much of the inherent jubilance of these styles, however, has been leached off to give them Scuba’s archetypal rough-hewn finish.
The album’s title alludes to something very fundamental about Rose as an artist. Perhaps the record is intended to highlight and celebrate the music he enjoyed growing up and which molded his development throughout his formative period. (How many of us can’t name a record or a band that has helped us to define us?) Indeed, Personality plays like a compendium of Rose’s artistic influences retranslated in his own style. Yet the variety appears to come at the expense of real depth in these productions. Scuba remains in the top tier of electronic producers, playing with sounds and complex rhythms with one hand tied behind his back, but Personality doesn’t succeed in establishing him as the trailblazer he so often is. Nor does it exemplify Scuba’s persona as many people have come to adore it.
Listeners will have to decide what to make of tracks like “Hope”, where a humanoid robot ‘sings’ its verses, and “NE1BUTU”, which sounds as if it were lifted right out of 1980s bubblegum dance culture. I found many of these older-sounding songs to be fairly dull, and a little bit pandering, even as I believe Scuba is making music that means something to him on a personal level. The tracks emulating British ambient house (“Tulips”, “Daisy Chain”) feel somewhat middling and insignificant, which, to be fair, was one of the selling points of the real deal (see the KLF’s fittingly titled Chill Out). Only the tracks that reminded me of the Scuba I knew—“Action” and “Cognitive Dissonance”, where slanted beat structures banged inside a pressurized boiler room—lent themselves to repeated, enjoyable listening.
Beyond this, it’s hard for me to articulate why Personality feels disappointing. It is an accomplishment on a technical level, and some people will certainly appreciate his shouts out to the styles they imbibed as teens and young adults. But the je ne sais profundity that launched his last record, Triangulation, to the #2 spot on this magazine’s Best Electronic Albums of 2010 list is missing. It was most often the little considerations on that record that took my breath away: the unexpected beat delays in “Three Sided Shape”, for instance, and the near-perfect melding of vocal sample and melody on “Latch”. Personality works more often in bigger, blunter strokes that offer fewer surprises and a deficiency of inspiration.