Lee Gamble explores the pressures on our memories, marrying challenging, abstract beats with subtle ambience.
Mnestic Pressure, Lee Gamble's first album for Hyperdub, finds him at a point in his career where he seems to be looking to systematically dismember his sound and refashion it into something faster and louder. Whereas on 2012's Diversions 1994-1996 and 2014's Koch Gamble was keen to let the music guide him, on Mnestic Pressure Gamble acts more as the aggressive manipulator. He seems emboldened, actively seeking to rough up his sound with harsher, disassembled beats acting as the counterfoil to more floaty, ambient melodies. It's an unpredictable and turbulent album that showcases a progressive and exciting talent trying to challenge himself as an artist.
The title derives from Gamble's belief that humans are finding their memories under siege from external forces such as the mass media and the political elite. The result is that people are being coerced more and more into trusting a memory that isn't necessarily their own or falling for a rose-tinted view of the world. Understandably, despite this not being an overtly political album, it was heavily influenced by the recent EU referendum in the UK where the tabloid press would attempt to evoke memories of the halcyon days long before “meddling" from Brussels. For Gamble, people's memories are being directly squeezed and pressured into thinking a certain way. To him, your memories aren't necessarily your own -- an engaging and thought-provoking idea that provides the loose framework for the album.
“Inta Centre" opens the lid on the album with a heavily dub-influenced, relaxed groove with snippets of buzzing drum and bass and swirling, airy, ambient chords. In microcosm, it summarises what follows over the course of the album as Gamble mixes drum and bass, dub, jungle, and ambient into a singular rousing abstraction. That continues on “Istian" as the track rides an urgent off-kilter beat with samples of whispered vocals that sound distant as if emerging from a thick mist. “23 Bay Flips" continues in the same vein with robotic beats, glitches, and various screeches and vocal samples becoming ever more frenetic.
“Swerva" is all robotic, dub-infused glitchiness with clanging, steely beats before metamorphosing into something beautiful, as washes of synths fill the space like fresh plumes of smoke. The contrast between the urgent, pressing opening and the lighter, calmer ending summarizes the contrast at the heart of the album. It's almost as if he's replicating the pressing and squeezing of memory itself. Often songs can tighten and constrict only to relax before the pressure becomes too much. This is in evidence on “Quadripoints", where scuttling percussion, modular synths, and chiming notes are tightly woven together before shuddering to a halt and settling in blissful, wondrous ambience.
“You Hedonic" provides a pause for contemplation. It's a much more ambient piece with swirling chords and occasional deeper droning sounds that recall the deep, metronomic grind of a large container ship steadily moving through icy seas. “A Tergo Real" illustrates Gamble's masterful ability to create tension with a simple circling keyboard riff that could easily become abrasive or pacify. In fact, it settles into an elegant and graceful ambient soundscape more reminiscent of his earlier work. “Ghost" is one of the more immediate highlights of the album. After waking the blood, the beat becomes more stop-start, interspersed with airy notes that gently circle the chaos like birds in flight. It's a delightfully '90s-sounding tune but given a contemporary overhaul, making it seem deliciously fresh and new. Closer “Déjà Mode" sees Gamble create a thick wall of sound that starts to fracture as single beats seemingly break off, convulse and fall. Ambient synths swell amongst the gloom until everything jerks to a sudden halt.
Anyone brought up on the sounds of Autechre and Aphex Twin will appreciate this album. However, this is far more than a simple homage. Gamble pushes and pulls against the familiar, looking for ways to push the sound forward. He's a master at marrying melody with challenging, abstract beats and sounds, creating a wholly immersive experience that lurches from an agitated roar to hushed calm in a single track. Mnestic Pressure is an album that demands your attention and one that will live long in the memory.