[2 June 2009]
– The actual Arecibo Message, 1974
Dubstep producers are often strict and rigid creatively. To satisfy market demands for the burgeoning electronic genre, many producers continually make what essentially amounts to the same track over and over again. Almost every Benga track amounts to little more than a few bleeps ornamenting a massive warp bassline, while most Burial songs are a downplayed beat and sparse gangsta samples smothered by a warm blanket of field recordings and faint ambience. Make no mistake, I like Burial a lot, and Benga has his time and place, but for someone lumped into the dubstep category, Boxcutter has very little in common with the big names in the genre.
Born in Northern Ireland with the name Barry Lynn, Boxcutter’s third full-length displays a laundry list of honest electronic influences. Although frequently graced by lounging Irie half-time beats, often utilized as a launching pad for bent genre experimentation, Arecibo Message picks up where 2007’s Glyphic left off. Lynn continues to channel certain dubstep motifs into sweeping excursions that touch on hyper-intelligent forms of house, breaks, hip-hop, electro, and jungle. No matter how easy it may be to dance to, how many somewhat typical club sounds and moderately cheesy vocals enter the fray, the results are unerringly IDM.
“Free House Acid” features a recognizable dub stutter beat during its intro, which fades into an unsettling melodic progression that carries the bulk of the track. This melody, though structurally stable, flitters through a continual evolution of filters and tweaks for the entirety of its existence, occasionally settling on a 303 acid sound that matches the somewhere between breaks and house beat. The sophistication of Lynn’s programming demonstrated here is leagues beyond industry standard capabilities.
For good measure, the bass in “Otherside Remix (Earth Is My Spaceship)” is just as phat as anything Benga has ever made, while the opening “Sidetrak” is as warehouse minimal as anything on Burial’s Untrue. Boxcutter’s mammoth bass counterpoints a consistent plethora of meticulously arranged twinkling delicacies so intricate that it makes Ghost in the Shell 2 look like a stick figure flipbook. At the very least, the man deserves to be bigger than Skream.
Showing off further complexity, “Mya Rave v2” takes us back to the early ‘90s trance ‘n’ bass sound of Acen, complete with the squeaky vocals and over-the-top epic synth lead. “Lamp Post Funk” blasts off to space disco land. It probably wouldn’t sound out of place on Squarepusher’s Just a Souvenir, somewhere between the first four tracks. “Kab 28” gets my vote for album highlight, starting off on evaporating sluggish percussion before the drums start slamming, the subbase starts warping, and the most delicate, crystalline synth line forges the track into proper jazzy drum and bass, the likes of which London Electricity has been toying with for years without ever quite breaking through to the other side.
Boxcutter’s 2006 debut Oneiric stuck hard to the Wikipedia definition of the dubstep formula. He opened up his palette a bit for Glyphic the next year, and that progression is fully embraced and articulated on his latest. Yet, no matter how far Arecibo Message gets out there, it still sounds like a Boxcutter record. Lynn is not overextending himself to achieve his impressive variety. He makes it sound so easy that it has to be an innate knack born in him, and finally being refined to an inimitable skill exclusive to himself. Make no mistake, Arecibo Message is one of the year’s best electronic records, sure to please weekend warriors and dedicated aficionados alike.