LV & Joshua Idehen - Routes

by Charly Richardson Rating:4 Release Date:2011-05-23

LV are a London-based trio whose music fits somewhere among dubstep and its numerous subgenres. Their output so far has been low in quantity, but high in quality. 'Turn Way' (featuring Dandelion) and 'Globetrotting' (featuring Erol Bellot) both appeared on the 2009 compilation 5: Five Years of Hyperdub, showcasing an inventive and pleasantly restrained take on post-dubstep roots-reggae. They also demonstrated LV's ability to work with other guest artists effectively, something which, looking at their back catalogue, they utilise on almost every release. It's a shame then that, having released a full album with a guest (spoken-word artist Joshua Idehen), this relationship has fallen flat.

Routes starts promisingly with 'I Know', a nod in the funky/bassline direction (much of the album follows a similar path). The next track, 'Tough', is a dancefloor friendly swirl of warm synths, vocal staccatos, shuffling drums and a somewhat annoying funk slap-bass. In both, Idehen's vocals are treated like vocal samples. The tracks are not - as one might expect - arranged around his spoken-word themes or narratives. And that might be because it appears as if Idehen has given LV almost nothing to work with. For an album which carries both their names, he contributes markedly little apart from the odd, not particularly insightful or interesting sentence or two per song (for example, "My reflection sees I'm dreaming" over and over again... Deep). This minimalist style occasionally works, such as on 'Last Night', in which he reveals a gloriously lazy half-sung half-spoken delivery. But more often than not, it just underwhelms.

LV seem to try and compensate by electronically manipulating Idehen's voice to make it vaguely interesting. But this fails and in fact makes it more annoying. Things hit rock-bottom during the horrendous 'Northern Line' which takes us into cod-grime mode (sample lyric: "What ya know about Angel? I flap my wings like Angel... What ya know about King's Cross? I get girls in King's Cross, I get laid in King's Cross, if you don't like it you can kiss off"). Incredibly, I don't think it's trying to be tongue-in-cheek (if it is, the tongue is not sufficiently in cheek).

Throughout the album, LV utilise some interesting sound design, and Routes is awash with beautifully crafted synth sounds and beats. But their failure to make it work with Idehen's vocals is evident. And when looking through some of his videos of poetry performances on YouTube, his contribution to this album clearly doesn't do him justice. So maybe, in fact, responsibility lies with the producers.

A sort of salvation for both parties appears towards the end of the album on the hilariously entitled 'Murkish Delights', in which, finally, LV's dark and brooding soundscape perfectly compliment Idehen's reflective narrative on 21st century London living. It's a relief, providing a taster of what this album could have been like with a bit more effort and focus. Yet it comes too late, and by the end Routes feels like a lazy project of half-baked ideas which could have been something really interesting. This time, they didn't get the relationship with their guest right. In the future, LV need to be more careful about who they work with (or have a clearer idea about how it is going to work, even if it does mean giving their guests a kick up the arse occasionally). Routes shouldn't have been this disappointing.

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