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Sherwood & Pinch
Man vs Sofa Bob Cluness , March 17th, 2017 12:02

Despite there being a difference of nearly four decades in generational terms, when Rob “Pinch” Ellis first invited On-U Sound maestro and post-dub overlord Adrian Sherwood as a guest on his Tectonic label night at Fabric back in 2011, it became obvious early on that there was a high level of mutual appreciation on personal terms alongside a common affinity towards connecting two ends of a bass continuum thread. Sherwood, the elder statesman, has long pushed the boundaries of the possibilities of dub and bass in a myriad of ways and genres that in some cases was so far ahead of its time that it’s only been in the past few years, through his lecture series with the RBMA and a series of retrospective label compilations from both himself and Trevor Jackson, that his mark on dance music and bass culture has begun to be fully explored and realised.

Pinch meanwhile, has long been credited as one of the pioneers of dubstep in Bristol, beyond its ground zero origins of South London, while also collaborating with the likes of Shackleton and Mumdance in taking the propelling the genre’s sound forward in terms of structure, atmospherics and scattered polyrhythms.

After the initial salvo of 2013’s Bring Me Weed, which took a fairly orthodox approach in terms of dub reggae and dubstep crossover potential, they made their first bold statement with the 2015 album Late Night Endless. And while there were parts of the album that jarred listening-wise where they failed to bridge the gap in the aesthetic differences between Sherwood’s free-wheeling organic productions and Pinch’s polished, meticulous approach, there were several moments on the album – such as the tracks ‘Shadowrun’, ‘Gimmie Some More (Tight Like That)’, and ‘Bucketman’ – where their respective styles slotted together perfectly.

Now two years on, Sherwood and Pinch come together again with their second collaborative album Man vs Sofa. And they have spent the time perfecting and refining their sound and approach, polishing off the rough edges and the crude aesthetic joins that were apparent before. There are definite moments where you can’t tell where Sherwood’s contribution ends and Pinch’s begins; despite the more outré experimental moments, all the disparate elements connecting to become a unified whole. The result is that Man vs Sofa continues in the vein of Late Night Endless with Sherwood and Pinch’s synthesis of contrasting elements, but altogether it is a much smoother, more accomplished ride.

Naturally the common bond across their collaborative history has been with bass and dub, and this is what underpins everything in Man vs Sofa. There’s a more direct, aggressive approach in several of the tracks than we’ve heard before from these two. The opening track “Roll Call” and “Midnight Mindset” is full of that low-end hum, deep bass sparseness and grime-y swagger that would be at home on Keysound records these days. ‘Juggling Act’ has a juddering roll and booming bass synth lines that would fit into a more emotive techno set. “Retribution” meanwhile is a full on overdriven banger stomp that leans more towards Pinch’s collab work with Mumdance. And that’s before even considering the album’s closing track “Gun Law”, an earth-quaking soundsystem detonator with the spat-out rhymes form Taz and haunting samples of the voice of the late Junior Delgado

But despite this more combative approach, Man vs Sofa still tends veers off the straight and narrow into little abstract alleyways and meanders in terms of sound motifs and atmospherics. A track such as ‘Unlearn’ may have a standard four-to-the-floor techno spine, but it doesn’t take the easy option production wise as Sherwood and Pinch spread and smear multiple textures, from feedbacking guitars to panned electronic echoes. The album is awash with cavernous snares, glitching electronic tones, and squelching shards of echonoise that phase in and out of earshot, while there are numerous intricate little touches that give the music a more delicate edge to it – the delicate wah-wah guitar lick in ‘Roll Call’ or the watery clicks and pops in ‘Lies’. The use throughout of Martin Duffy’s delicate, jazzy piano lines as they waft and drift over the proceedings, give Man vs Sofa a decidedly dreamlike, shimmering quality in places.

There is the occasional flat moment in Man vs Sofa - Ironically for a track that they apparently worked on for nearly five years, their cover of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’ feels superfluous and unnecessary. But that aside, this album sees Sherwood and Pinch take a big evolutionary step in their partnership in terms of keeping their inventiveness and the slabs of bass fresh while managing to ditching much of stodge. They’re fast becoming a production duo that are going to be here for the long run.