West London-based musician/producer Mark de Clive-Lowe has been turning heads for several years, standing at the forefront of beat-heads from around the block like Bugz in the Attic, 4hero, and IG Culture. Call his music beats with a musician’s sensibility, but that description underscores the inherent musicality of production-based music. Call it jazz-infused beats, and suddenly there is an air of esotericism, which is hardly the case for his propulsive and impulsive tracks. His compositions move with the soulquarian scope of early to mid-’70s soul music. Yet modern flourishes abound, each song pulsing with washes of keys and the bristle of drum machines and samples. The past made future, once again.
Mark returns with his latest full-length Tide’s Arising, and continues his foray and exploration of modern soul. The concepts here have not moved considerably past his previous Six Degrees, both of which feature a bundle of percussion buttressing thoughtful dance tunes. This time out, Bembé Segué features prominently, infusing her closely harmonized vocals into more than half of the record, while Abdul Shyllon provides a throaty male counterpart on a handful of the remaining tracks. In addition to his virtuoso keyboard playing, Mark continues to demonstrate his keen understanding of rhythmic play, though he uses more ‘conventional’ sounds this time around; on a track like “El Dia Perfecto” from Degrees, which bustled with shakers, cowbells, and miscellaneous percussion to create Afro-Latino poly rhythms, this time Mark relies heavily on simple kicks and snares, albeit in a broken beat style. Of course, for each of these points, there are counterpoints: the break-heavy instrumental “Pino + Mashi” is a throwback deep funk interlude, and subtle additions like chimes and bells accentuate the sensual boom bap of “Quintessential”. However, Tide‘s strength lies in its ability to speak in a uniform tongue, displaying a new sense of focus for Mark.
The first half of Tide flows with a grindin’ sense of grace, a bump’n cohesion. The album’s lead single “Slide” kick starts the party with a stuttering shoulder pop before hi-hats drive steady upbeats behind the underwater vocals. Bembé Segué sings Godfather chants and calls with herky jerky, Purple-style syncopation. “Travelling” continues to explore fours with its relatively insistent downbeat, nodding to hip house with Capitol A’s understated and relaxed raps, but stopping and starting the rhythm again with bass tones that crescendo in and cut out abruptly. “State of the Mental” covers similar ground as its a-side “Slide”, but with a heavier reliance on hooks. Bembé Segué again lays down scat-style vocals, jumping and twisting and turning at every corner, with close harmonies, the coordination of which is an impressive technical feat. Mark’s drum programming continues to shine, as he bangs out shuffling rhythms atop of rhythms atop of rhythms on his MPC. Although there is less variety of drum sounds this time out, Mark constantly shifts accents around to create a rhythmic treat.
While the first chapter bustles with instant appeal, Mark connects the neo-hustle with the second half’s reinterpretation of conventional soul sounds. The title track returns to the first side’s familiar territory, but Miguel Fuentes’s live percussion and Shyllon’s subtle vocal ground the track in neo-garage soul; though less acrobatic as Bembé, Shyllon shines with his behind-the-beat throb on the chorus. Such warmth allows the album to decrescendo and rest d’lovely in “Heaven” and its reprise, “Heaven Part II”. Even by this point, Bembé takes a looser approach and responds to each of her harmonies as opposed to flying in tight formation with them. Perhaps it helps that three of the last seven songs are interludes, but the rhythm-heavy album benefits from such lucidity.
While Mark’s balance of analog and acoustic/human instruments lends Tide a sense of warmth, it never quite catches the feel of warmth because it suffers from a crisp and overly digital production. Case in point: the aforementioned “Quintessential” enters D’Angelo territory with its Voodoo-like pacing, but comes out the speakers crispy as Brown Sugar. Each recorded track (in the 48-track sense; not the album track/song sense) sounds flat and asphyxiated, leading to a curious compression when played out. Subsequently, Tide sounds distant and loses much of its personable charm.
Nevertheless, Mark’s work on Tide continues his exploration of adventurous movement to drive a dancer wild. Considering the contrasting club scenes between the US and the UK, mass American club-goers will likely view Tide‘s (and broken beat, and any other dance music originating from the UK) density as too much, as too directive. However, with time Tide will prove a capable piece in any DJ’s collage.