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Untold
Black Light Spiral Nick Hutchings , March 5th, 2014 10:32

As an alter-ego, Untold couldn't be more appropriate for Hemlock label boss and producer Jack Dunning, for he's changed direction an unfathomable amount of times since emerging bright eyed from the sub bass-ment in 2008. Ascribing to the formula of never doing the same thing twice, and also literally scribing down all his ideas, Dunning is a former designer whose method includes work flow charts, post-it note sketches and track treatments. However, that makes his work sound unedifying and scientific, when in fact it has an undeniably organic quality on his alarming debut album Black Light Spiral, which starts with the wail of a klaxon on '5 Wheels' and ends with the crackle of post riotous embers on 'Ion'.

It's less dancefloor-aimed than the glitchy, block-shifting electro on early R&S 12" 'Stereo Freeze', but this mission into more esoteric electronica shouldn't be a surprise. Dunning has helmed not one, but two labels that have deftly sidestepped dubstep and categorisation. Hemlock was instrumental in the rise of James Blake from dancefloor to coffee table, and he has helmed a journey from rimshot tickling precision percussion via shattering acid tracks to more expansive cinematic soundscapes taking in acts like Randomer, Pangaea, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Cosmin TRG along the way. Even as Untold, he has shape-shifted from electro to funk in his collaboration with Roska and Hyperdub's LV; dub with Samuel Chase as Dreadnought, through to breakneck BPMs for Clone Basement. Jack Dunning has surreptitiously crept up behind you like one of Doctor Who's weeping angels, and Black Light Spiral is chock full of malice.

Don't be fooled by the stark cover art featuring a brick smashing through a gaudy china NatWest piggy bank - this lone wolf is going to blow your house down, but not without subtlety. He is literate, intuitive, perceptive, and restless, and likes to push himself as well as the listener. Songs take on a repetitive cycle that become monotonous, then hypnotic, then addictive. They almost go a step too far for you to fully appreciate before you are whip-cracked back to reality with a lasso and shuffled on for the next aural assault. This is an album of music that bristles with menace and forcibly demands to be listened to in its entirety.

With second track 'Drop It On The One' you're waiting for the drop, but when the monstrous rumbling sub bass begins to undulate with the same rhythmic intensity as the sirens on the album opener, you realise you're on one massive drop, like a sinkhole into a dark hinterland. It's not so much ripping the carpet out from underneath you, as the entire soil substrata. After the shade comes the half-light of 'I Sing A Love Song' with it's almost Max Romeo 'I Chase The Devil' refrain on infinite loop, punctuated by New Orleans voodoo-infused piano chimes. It's really difficult to compare Untold to any other dance music exponent, but you would imagine that Andrew Weatherall would dig this one, as it could owe a bounty to the Sabres of Paradise.   Next, the rhythmic rumble of 'Doubles' hurtles down the tracks. If Chemical Brothers did a high-speed bullet train on 'Star Guitar' and Holden captured the 70s retro rolling stock on 'Inter City 125' then 'Doubles' is a runaway freight on course for a collision with the future, and shunts straight into the loudest, darkest phase of the album. With a title you can almost smell, 'Wet Wool' fuses the crackling sounds of a fly being buzzed in an insecticutor with the whooshing of a police helicopter swooping overhead, and the palpitating beat of a heart under pressure. Combined with static that sounds to me like a balloon being rubbed I thought of 'Three Hundred Grams Of Latex And Steel In One Day (Redux)' by EVOL, but if such obscurities are the only benchmarks on Black Light Spiral you know you are dealing with a master.

The absolute nexus of the recording is the throbbing 'Hobsthrush'. The title makes me wonder if it's the kind of rash you get when you dip a HobNob somewhere you shouldn't. It certainly has an itchy intensity. And just as the blood rushes to the surface, it ebbs away with album closer 'Ion'. With isotopic echoes of the sirens at the start of Untold's soundscape, it's the perfect bookend to a dance album that seems as game changing as when I first heard Underworld's opus Dubnobasswithmyheadman.

Black Light Spiral is a sound that feels organic and not sequenced within an inch of its life. It's because Dunning has experimented with echo chambers and daisy chains of hardware in perpetual motion and he has kept in all the punky imperfections rather than studying waveforms and meticulous algorithms much loved by many of his peers. It's this digital soul at the heart of Untold which will ensure both his longevity and vitality. Whatever move he makes next you won't have seen it coming, and you definitely won't know what's hit you.

 

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