Pinch - Underwater Dancehall

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Bristol-based dubstep producer Pinch (real name Rob Ellis) and his Tectonic imprint has established a position as easily one of the most crucial forces currently operating amongst the genre, with no less than twenty 12” releases under its belt, including tracks from scene movers Skream, Loefah and Sydney’s own Moving Ninja. It’s certainly more than appropriate that Tectonic’s third full-length release arrives in the form of Pinch’s own debut album Underwater Dancehall, recorded ‘somewhere between London and Bristol’ and featuring a veritable roll-call of guest vocalists including Yolanda (who’s previously worked with the likes of Deekline), reggae legend Rudy Lee and Indi Kaur.

Curiously enough, Pinch opts to open proceedings with a reworking of last year’s Planet Mu dubstep anthem Qawwali, retitled here as Brighter Day and featuring the added vocals of NYC artist Juakali – and indeed, it’s Pinch’s decision to employ full vocals on all but three tracks out of the ten here that’s likely to prove the most divisive factor for many listeners. Whereas the original mix of Qawwali built much of its hypnotic ambience through the use of subtly-placed minimalist elements, with an eerie dubbed-out wash of harmonium colliding with sparse grape-shot snares and thick curves of sub-bass, Juakali’s slightly cliched ragga-hiphop chat simply dominates and clutters the original’s sense of spaciousness, considerably lessening the overall effect.

By comparison, Yolanda’s guest vocal appearance on the breakstep-loaded Get Up fares far better, with vast sinister sub-bass pulses and clattering snares taking things off on a dancefloor-centred garage-soul tip that for some reason had me flashing back to Reprazent’s New Forms. And One Blood, One Source meanwhile sees Rudey Lee’s smooth reggae croon taking things out on a gliding digi-dub tip that calls to mind later-period Smith & Mighty, but in many senses it’s instrumental track Widescreen that offers up one of this album’s biggest highlights, with Pinch’s ominous fusion of slow, near industrial beats and oppressive bass pressure given an opportunity to build without any surrounding clutter or distractions.

While I must confess that the aforementioned approach certainly reflects my personally preferred end of the dubstep spectrum, Pinch has nicely covered all the bases by including all the tracks in instrumental form on the second disc included here.

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