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White Noise: Scuba – Personality

Friday, 9 March 2012

Scuba – Personality

Label: Hotflush

Hotflush label-head Paul Rose has moved from cerebral Dubstep pioneer to a ‘Big Name In Dance Music’ pretty swiftly over the last year or so, and so a lot of things have changed. Alongside his outspoken tweeting and expert label management he’s been charting a musical shift to parallel that of his own position in the dance sphere. Last year’s singles Loss (as SCB) and Adrenalin signalled a stark move away from the dark, heady sound of Scuba past and a clear stride towards the bombastic, ‘Big Club Music’ that we hear now in Personality. Change is always welcome, especially from a producer so established and talented, so the problems that this album potentially poses are less of not being experimental enough, and more of limiting excess and holding an album together coherently.

Scuba hinted at this monumental shift in last month’s single release of Hope, a balls-out House stomper that essentially beats the listener around the face with huge beats and roaring synths, even adding a deadpan, cliché-bating monologue to make the 90s club-referencing complete. It’s a track entirely devoid of subtleties, but when something is so expertly constructed and enjoyable to listen to, detail isn’t a big worry. The track, like much of this album, is clearly indebted to the upbeat, faintly tasteless club sounds of the late 90s, but as Rustie proved with last year’s phenomenal Glass Swords, re-appropriation of ‘uncool’ genres can be a killer tool.

On Personality, Scuba offers up big, muscular sounds that tend towards the sunny daze of the album cover but occasionally descend into colder, more mechanical territory. In a similar fashion, there are big Dance tunes and more chilled out tracks, with little in the way of a middle ground, and within each half there are successes and failures. For example, there are a few tunes that tread a broad, upbeat path, with bright 80s synths conjuring images of Miami in the sunshine. First track Ignition Key is a good example, following an extended (and kind of depressing) spoken-word intro with big, sharp chords and snappy percussion. Vocals are injected with style, carefully treading a line between a retro feel and contemporary filters. Out of any of Scuba’s earlier material it most recalls Adrenalin B-side Everywhere’s sun-bleached disco workout, and although it lacks the latter’s sense of tension it’s a good entrance point for such a big, fun album. Rose triumphs towards the close of the album in the same vein with standout track NE1BUTU, which builds with sharp, heavy beats and dreamy sun-drenched chords into the drop (‘never seen you break it down like this’) which is pure bliss with bright House chords, proving that even when Scuba goes all out he can still get it so right. Elsewhere these shiny tracks can wear a little thin, such as in July which starts promisingly with a bouncing bassline and iridescent synth stabs but then doesn’t really go anywhere.

This is the problem with Personality’s weaker tracks, they feel a little undercooked, as if the track’s second half is just left to repeat the first. For example while amongst the harder Techno-inflected numbers Underbelly is a subtle and muscular slow-burner and Cognitive Dissonance is an impressively moody exercise taking in Autonomic-style DnB with style, these tracks are accompanied by Action, a disappointingly thin slice of Dub Techno, and Gekko, a messy and overlong shifter that has no real sense of movement or progress.

Apart from the pure and sunny glory of NE1BUTU, Personality’s best moments are when Rose doesn’t choose quite so clearly between light and dark. Dsy Chn is an early highlight, an intriguing track with hefty beats and a perfectly-implemented array of clipped vocal samples scattered throughout the tune, particularly the male voice emerging and receding around halfway through the song, played perfectly against the ebb and flow of the instrumentation. Final track If U Want is another choice cut, with a simple bassline drawing a crowd of emotive chords and voices into the mix before it dissolves into a backmasked version of Rose’s introductory monologue.

As the track comes to a close, it’s hard to really know what to make about Personality as a whole, and that’s because it never quite comes together as an LP. The album jumps quite radically in both style and quality from track to track, and whilst they are all of a very high production quality, not all of the cuts on offer have enough substance to keep you listening. It’s encouraging to see a producer trying something so new, and there are some great songs here as well as a lot of fun, big-room killers, but some may miss the rewarded repeated listens and subtleties of Triangulations or A Mutual Antipathy. It’s clear that Scuba is capable of very great things and isn’t constrained by a specific genre or tone, so I’m happy to enjoy some of the tunes on here and see what he does next.


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