If grime initially sounded like the echo of Britain’s modern urban dystopias, recent years have seen a subtle shift, most notably with the gradual fade of the MC. Producers are pilfering the musical techniques laid down by Wiley and others around ten years ago and foregoing the need to add their actual voices to the fray. It’s perhaps no coincidence that this has occurred in tandem with the increased global profile of Dizzee Rascal, Tinchy Stryder and Lethal Bizzle, although there still remains a plethora of really talented MCs operating at a more grassroots level, so maybe it’s just a coincidence. If I was initially dubious about the very idea of "instrumental grime", it hasn’t taken me long to be seduced, as the likes of Wen, Logos, Fatima Al Qadiri and Mr Mitch have produced works that literally transcend grime itself. If there’s a problem with instrumental grime, it may only be its name.

Out of this potent sonic breeding ground now emerges Safe, the debut album – after three well-received EPs – by Londoner Visionist, aka Louis Carnell, and it may be the most esoteric grime album to date. In its early years, grime was a gritty, realistic genre, honing in on the stark realities of inner-city life. Genre cross-pollination, the removal of the MC and a gradual evolution beyond London’s boundaries have thrown up new horizons, and Visionist, on Safe, takes bold strides towards them. At 33 minutes, it’s a short album, but Carnell crams a lot of detail into the twelve vignettes that make it up, as he navigates a nether-realm between reality and the oneiric. The basic structures of grime remain in place, such as the trademark clattering industrial percussion on tracks like ‘Victim’ (a real banger of a tune), ‘Vffected’ and ‘Too Careful To Care’, the sparsely applied snares on ‘1 Guarda’, or the deep, throbbing bass of ‘I’ve Said’. Equally, some of the synth melodies, such as on opener ‘You Stayed’, draw on the current "sinogrime" trend and have echoes of some of Al Qadiri’s work on her Asiatisch album.

And yet, from the opening bars of the aforementioned ‘You Stayed’, Carnell take this core DNA and re-imagines it entirely, injecting a sparse ethereality that is striking and echoes Logos’ Cold Mission, but without that album’s icy detachment. Visionist uses sampled voices throughout Safe, like a grime answer to Burial, but where the latter’s protagonists are mournful phantoms obscured by rain and fog as they meander through London’s dark streets, the voices here sound like the eructations of extraterrestrials beamed in from a brighter future, be they surrounded by fuzzy beats on the title track, burbling out of a sea of warm synthesisers on ‘You Stayed’, or jostling together in a sort of alien choir on ‘Sin-cere’. The effect is almost disconcerting, especially alongside the stop-start rhythmic flow that runs through the album. Resisting the temptation to barrel forwards as many a vocal-led grime artist has done in the past, Carnell allows himself the space to dart around or sit back, as if following the voices rather than being the one to produce them in the first place.

With Safe, Visionist has created a work so forward-thinking it’s positively post-modern. By deconstructing the language of grime and propelling it into the ether, he has given the genre fresh legs and pointed the way to the future in ways even those illustrious predecessors I mentioned in the first paragraph didn’t manage.

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