Colour Theory radiates positivity and hope, albeit in a slightly different manner than the band may have done it in the past.
If there’s one thing that’s clear from Colour Theory, it’s this: Submotion Orchestra is not quite the band they once were. Their newest full-length is, for the most part, full of vibrant melodies and pop hooks up the wazoo, a stark departure from the blunted dubstep-jazz fusion that propelled them to stardom five years ago. Though there’s still quite a lot of subdued, bass-heavy architecture to be found here, Submotion Orchestra builds on their traditional foundations with a lot more midrange and treble delectability than might have been found on their previous offerings. The band, in short, is mutating away from their strictly traditional dubstep roots as the genre fades, rolling up neighboring sounds like a musical Katamari.
That said, Colour Theory is still definitively a Submotion Orchestra album. The band has been described in terms of hope, of the sun peeking over the grimy London streets in the morning, and that ever-present optimism is here in spades. The group has always been a top-notch example of what it means to embody tangible emotion within a work of sound, and what makes Colour Theory so great is the immediacy with which its sound blossoms, both in terms of its sonic growth and internal, sentimental button-pressing. The standout “Empty Love” uses its stuttering, clumsy drums beautifully, minimal piano/voice verses expanding radically upon their entrance in the chorus alongside a menacing bass growl. Ed Thomas’ cries of “Will you even care?” are swallowed up by the cavernous low end, seemingly defeated, but they’re spit back up, borne aloft upon a cloud of vocal harmonization. It’s a desolate song, accentuated by the squareness of the non-verbal voices therein, but at the same time it shimmers and undulates, ready to bloom at any moment.
This is the story of the album. Alternately poppy close-to-deep house a la Maya Jane Coles and floral dubstep, its disparate genre traversal is tied in a neat bundle by its undying spirit. Lead singer Ruby Wood has always been known for her subtle, angelic croon, and over the brightly-colored musical accompaniment her voice pins down the sublime beauty found over the LP’s journey. It’s a perfect addition to the often subtle bass, sharp clicks, shimmering arpeggios, and all the other elements found on Color Theory, and the way all elements work in harmony is glorious.
On their website, Submotion Orchestra describes themselves as “a kaleidoscope of electronic bass music". This is a particularly apt descriptor for Colour Theory, an album very much restrained by its adherence to the flavors of the past few years in terms of bass-focused pop but one which yearns to break free of those chains. It’s certainly not the most exciting piece of music to come out of Submotion’s instruments -- that would certainly still go to their debut LP, Finest Hour -- but it’s a pleasant one nonetheless, one which radiates positivity and hope, albeit in a slightly different manner than they may have done it in the past. Submotion Orchestra is no longer pushing the envelope of dubstep, creating some of the most gorgeous music in the genre -- but, if Colour Theory is any indication, maybe their new direction isn’t so bad after all.