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Cloud Seed jonny mugwump , April 15th, 2010 11:11

I've come to think of dubstep as an ungenre only really fulfilling its potentialities as it has disintegrated and oozed its way through Ian Penman tricknology theory, Kevin Martin's Macro Dub Infection compilations and the Hyperdub virus as conceptualised by Kode9. And, for the last couple of years, dubstep in its purest form has been utterly unthrilling, creaking like the Marie Celeste from a paucity of imagination and mass levels of lazy, stoned-macho-sparsity. Of course, mutation would appear to be vital component of any genre- the bleeding through of barriers that allows for the constant motion of sound (although this should not be taken to mean progression, which is a hoary old idea at the best of times). Genres are birthed through a rampant disregard for formula (excepting jungle, the most malformed genre of all time that tragically waded into a morass of muso-jazz nonsense and hyper-idm snobbery when it dropped its guard). In the last couple of years we've had brilliant albums (in no particular order and just off the top of my head) from Scuba, Kode9, Starkey, Burial, Falty DL, Milanese, Dusk & Blackdown and Ikonika, with Darkstar soon to drop and potentially plenty more to come. All of these bear a strong relationship with dubstep of some description. It's the space and the pace, I guess.

I only mention this because Vex'd know something about mutation and long-players. In 2005, they released their debut album Degenerate - an early indication that dubstep, when harnessed (im)properly could withstand the curse of the dance floor meeting a long-playing format. That album was huge, heavy and dark. It pulled atmospherically (and more often than not sonically) from industrial and metal. And it worked. A duo, Jamie (now recording as the equally excellent Kuedo also on Planet Mu) upped sticks to Berlin while Roly relocated to Bristol. A constant to-ing and fro-ing of virtual sounds and ideas found the two unable to fully realise a sequel, diverging tastes and geographical separation causing Vex'd to simply fade from view...

Cloud Seed, then, is a collection of rarities, remixes and unreleased music recorded around 2006/07 and selected and sequenced by the heroic duo and Mike (Mr Mu himself) Paradinas. It starts with 'Time Out' which is rattling, sparse and cavernous and stars the distinctive patois of Warrior Queen. I'm not sure it works - there is too much dislocation between the vocals and the music, some kind of weird gulf where things aren't coming together. There are two other songs with vocal narratives that suffer a similar fate - 'Heart Space' which comes in third with Anneka's soft vocals lying too comfortably on what initially feels like lukewarm trip-hop with an epic gloss, and later on 'Disposition' with Jest rapping somnambulant across eerie tones and a heavily synthetic sub-bass. Maybe it's just that Vex'd are simply not comfortable giving into lyrical narrative - because (and despite) this, Cloud Seed is pretty much a goddamn triumph.

Vex'd have a sound like nobody else - huge fucking dub hieroglyphics carved out of a gargantuan and melancholy landscape. The opener smoothly segues into 'Remains of the Day' which off-sets an elegiac/ mournful synth against mechanical interventions - machinic brutalist ripples which problematise the ambience, a uniquely Vex'd calling-card. Even the aforementioned 'Heart Space' takes on terrifying new forms halfway through when the mannered vocals accelerate into panning delirium chasing digital noise into a black hole. Compared to Degenerate, there is more breathing space - it's not as violently claustrophobic but there is more breadth too. There are borrowings and remixes of new classical and more than a few of those aforementioned uneasily calm interludes. The Jamie Vex'd remix of Plaid's 'Bar Kimura' is simply outstanding, relocating that duo's sometimes subtle mysticism into a monolithic replicant prison-camp. Another Jamie remix, this time of Distance's 'Fallen' loops a chilling wordless vocal over warm melancholy synths resulting in a hugely cinematic landscape. Cloud Seed closes with 'Nails', which is everything I always hoped the nine Inch version would sound like. A quick repetitive music-box beat, an incomplete vocal and foreboding low-key melodic undercarriage, shards of processed guitar pin-pricking the background until the hinted beat kicks in- a giant, crunching pulverising cloud of rhythm and heavily-processed metal guitar.

Is this coherent as a second album? Well, I'm not sure- at points it flows majestically and at other times disparately. Does it matter? Not in the slightest. When Cloud Seed hit's its mark it's a singular combination of maturity, sophistication, melancholy and epic violence. It sounds like Peckinpah directing Blade Runner. Several tracks plot new ways through old forms. Only recently Vex'd have not ruled out the possibility of working together again in the future. After tearing such a massive hole in the scene, I really don't see who else would have the imagination to fill it.