The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Reviews

Pearson Sound
Pearson Sound Albert Freeman , March 11th, 2015 16:35

There are many records that have been praised for being ahead of their time. But what of those that arrive too late? In the world of dance music, many producers would rather change their sound entirely than land out of sync, but there do appear, on occasion, problematic releases that arrive at a time when their impact is diminished. By missing the hype cycles, it perhaps gives more chance for freedom of expression, but in the context of a movement for which the artist was an important founder and innovator, more often opportunity is lost. Such are the issues facing Pearson Sound's eponymous debut album, a challenging work of clear quality, but one that arrives out of phase musically and isolated from the artist's and label's previous output.

It is hard to think of producers more forward-thinking or timely in bass music than David Kennedy, his label mate Pangaea, and their on-the-second music platform, Hessle Audio, which plowed out of nearly nowhere in 2007 to host early work from the likes of (Cosmin) TRG, Untold, Joe and Blawan. It quickly became one of the genre's most feted imprints, and especially the work of Ramadanman and Pangaea earned accolades, nearly always landing perfectly poised on the cutting edge of microtrends that became movements in of themselves, for anyone who fondly remembers future garage, juke, and others. As dubstep itself became a dirtied term, Kennedy dropped his influential Ramadanman moniker almost on cue; a short overlap in 2009-2010 for his newly-minted, more searching Pearson Sound alias, and the schizoid final months of Ramadanman were both telling in different ways of what was to come. The new name brought with it a sound less confined to genre ideas and riskier at centre, and for the next four years it steamed along briskly with anticipated, head-turning releases that kept up the pace set by his previous work.

Things seemed to fizzle out somewhat come 2013, with a only a single ambient record from Kennedy emerging since then and a mysteriously not-followed 12" on Hessle Audio from Bruce in 2014, a typically great discovery. It's hard to know why things slowed so suddenly after dependably knocking out more classics than was really fair for an imprint less than 30 releases deep. Even with bass music's further mutations in tempo and sound towards techno, Hessle Audio's core artists delivered time and again, and each new name, most often pulled out of thin air, caused a stir and went on to further accomplishments. Arriving after this pregnant pause and very much at an odd time in the given context, Pearson Sound is burdened by heavy expectations sometimes more than it can bear.

The record begins ponderously with 'Asphalt Sparkle', overlong as an intro in spite of interesting production touches, particularly the reverb clouds that chew the drum hits to shadows of themselves. He returns to similar territory several times through the album's short running time, notably on 'Headless' and 'Gristle'; taken together the three occupy a third of the run time but fall perilously short of interest past Kennedy's expectedly expert handling of the sounds. The saggy midsection isn't helped by 'Six Congas', where the low-bit drums in the title and a twisting kick pattern do their best to disguise a square metre but don't hide the overall lack of ideas past the rhythmic twists. 'Crank Call' is even more basic, little more than looped drums and a drooping, repeated synthesiser line, which taken together neither attempt nor achieve much in the way of momentum.

He fares better on the remaining four pieces, but they're not enough to save the album from itself. 'Glass Eye' is a shining, single-worthy track that would have fit onto any of his 12"s, perhaps not as a highlight but sure to gain respect and airtime with its skeletal, unclassifiable rhythmic ideas and eerie pads. 'Russet' also makes a good listen, even if there's little new in his take on dub techno past the changing drum patterns. The remaining two go very much into experimental territory, with 'Swill' changing tempos like a record roughly handled on a turntable and with little in the way of accompaniment to the wildly swerving drums. 'Rubber Tree' ends it on a strong but equally bizarre note, this time running much of the percussion through heavy distortion and sudden filter sweeps for unhinged effect before it eventually plods to a halt, leaving only arcs of feedback and humming to end the album.

Kennedy's relatively smooth transition from Ramadanman to Pearson Sound achieved the clear purpose of burying his connection to dubstep and lightening the musical expectations placed upon him. It's strange then that his present stance is so awkward. In 2013, a Pearson Sound album would have been a great event and certainly a major step in a career already full of them, but waiting two years effectively sapped the urgency. He's still obviously reacting against expectations, but his timeliness and unremitting excellence at staying one step ahead is lost. Without it, Kennedy is another producer making interesting tracks, but he sometimes flounders without a scene to lead or a distinct direction. When his first project dissipated somewhat messily in 2010, Pearson Sound was already in full swing and there was no need to look back. A full length to somehow bolster his artistic credentials seems hardly necessary, and indeed Pearson Sound does little to change the existing equation. If Kennedy is looking to change directions again, it's a dramatic gesture, but not really a needed one. If he aims to continue, he has a two-year gap leading to this that makes picking up the pieces precarious.

It's always felt as an acute loss when important figures begin the slow process of fading away, and it does seem Pearson Sound may have reached this juncture. Surely Kennedy's days as in influential figure will stretch on, and many other producers have followed a similar road that took them away from active production for periods only to return to greatness later on. He's not likely done yet, but Pearson Sound for the first time finds him at point of pause, with only a void on both sides, and with no clear direction in which the next step will fall.   

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.