Dam Mantle - First Wave

by Rich Morris Rating:9 Release Date:2011-03-08

There's been little in a the way of fanfare, but the evidence is here for all to behold: Glasgow's Tom Marshallsay, aka Dam Mantle, is one of the greatest producers of electronic music currently working in the UK. His output may as yet not have received much attention in the lamestream media (thank you, Sarah Palin), but Marshallsay makes fantastically inventive music with draws on the leftfield end of dubstep and hip hop, as well as the perpetually forbidding sounds of intelligent dance music, while retaining an impressive melodic sensibility.

The tracks on debut album First Wave are almost an embarrassment of riches; expansive, syrupy synth soundscapes, crunching beats and vocals which stutter or drift across the music. Tracks such as 'Theatre', 'Beaching Loom' and 'Yoghurt' feature intensely beautiful, intricate collages underpinned by shifting, sometimes aggressive avant-garde beats. Anyone who enjoyed 2010's Starkey album, Eardrums and Blackholes - one of the clearest signs that dubstep is capable of pushing to the sonic outer-limits - will find much to love on the squelching, fizzing 'D1' . Those still tripping to the atavist cosmonaut sounds of Flying Lotus will similarly be enthralled by the warped African percussion and ambient chatter of 'The March of the Prince' and 'Two Women'.

Surprisingly, some of First Wave is almost danceable; 'Grey', for example, has a wonderful body-popping beat, albeit obscured under Faust-like industrial brutalisation. Second track 'Rebong', meanwhile, combines dubstep's trademark aquatic bass with ethereal vocals, looped harp strums and the occasional, incongruous 80s synth stab to create something way funkier than it has a right to be. Then there is album highlight 'Purple Arrow', which draws together First Wave's disparate stands into a work of such genuine, off-the-wall, oddly soulful brilliance, it almost seems to be hallucinating at the very fact of its own existence.

Only a couple of tracks disappoint; opener 'A Statue That is Perpetually Unveiled' fails to live up to its intriguing, modernist art installation name, sounding like something a stoner bedroom-based producer would cook up. Similarly, the cut-up orchestral sounds of final tune 'Movement', while overlayed onto some inventive percussion, just feel like a late-night piss-about on a laptop.

These occasional slips aside, First Wave stands as a complete sonic world you'll want to lose yourself in for days. Make no mistake, Dam Mantle is where electronica is at in 2011.

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