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To label Phaeleh's style – pronounced 'Fella' – as ambient dubstep doesn't really do him justice: the term dubstep conjures images of the vicious and abrasive 'wobs', none of which you'll find here. Trying to characterise his music is hard only because he is carving out a name for himself as an uncompromisingly original artist; distinctly minimalist, and certainly a product of Bristol's garage and drum and bass scene, Phaeleh employs a clean, sustained and bone-shaking bass to create his signature aqueous tone.
Tides is the fourth album release from 28 year old producer, Matt Preston, and his second through Afterglo Records. While maintaining his downtempo, oceanic style, he continues to push his mixing desk – and clubs' speakers – to the limit, presenting a varied and well-crafted album interlaced with appearances from several of his contemporaries. Think of it as an ambient journey through the dark and little-explored regions of the overdriven subwoofer.
Not restricted to your everyday synths, Phaeleh frequently uses samples which almost give a feel of the classical to some of his songs. Although this fusion may seem offensive, listening to 'Journey', his opening track, may change your mind. The haunting, echoing strings melody on top of the messy break-beat and traditional drum-and-bass vocal samples not only works, but immediately immerses you in the meandering current of the album.
Soundmouse returns for her fourth collaboration with Phaeleh in 'Here Comes the Sun', and proves that their efforts only improve as they become more comfortable working together. Her high, clear voice contrasts perfectly with a bass so low it'll massage all of your muscles. Jess Mills, Augustus Ghost and Cian Finn each feature on separate tracks, not only showcasing their considerable talents, but showing too that Phaeleh isn't burdened with the ego of many producers: he knows when to take a step back and let a great voice be heard. Working with Cian, a male vocalist, is in particular an unusual undertaking for him, but one which really pays off.
Continuing through the dreamy album, you'll hear a subtle flute on 'Tokoi', classical piano on the title track, and what sounds like a steel drum in the sublime closer, 'Distraction'; all this in the context of electronic dance music - clearly, having established himself and his style on the scene, Phaeleh is not afraid to experiment.
Phaeleh might be compared to bands like Massive Attack, or producers such as Burial. However, he is also unique, being one of the only non-derivative producer of this kind of music that you'll find; this album is an excellent perpetuation of the style which Phaeleh has pioneered, while also being experimental enough to satisfy listeners' appetites for change and innovation. His next album is eagerly awaited.
One of the shortest tracks on the album is ‘DMT Song’. Created with the help of bassist/vocalist, Thundercat, it is the most vocally dense song on the record. Slow and dreamy, with high-pitched, slightly dissonant, vocals, it's a good intro to the next track, ‘The Nightcaller’. Aptly titled, this song features a groovy dance bass underneath a synthesizer melody that sounds ideal for waving your arms around on the dance floor.
‘Getting There’, with vocals by Niki Randa, is reminiscent of Massive Attack. Not only because of the elongated vocals, but the muffled bass beat and dreamy bell sounds could certainly also have spawned from the brains of 3D and Daddy G. The same goes for ‘Hunger’; a song that sounds like it was recorded underwater and also features Randa. Its spacious melody is broken up by a bridge with echoing vocals and harpsichord-like keyboards.
Erykah Badu is the only vocalist to appear on the album that Flying Lotus hasn’t worked with previously. Her vocals work really well on the African sounding track ‘See Thru To U’ - hopefully, Badu will become incorporated into Ellison’s fixed team of vocalists.
‘Putty Boy Strut’ sounds like a broken toy gone mental, with a catchy musical theme that returns in the deeper layers of ‘Me Yesterday/Corded’.
‘Electric Candyman’ features vocals by Radiohead frontman, Thom Yorke, and is a slow track with male and female vocal melodies mixed together in a way that almost sounds disorienting. Yorke’s voice is hardly recognisable, which seems like a waste considering his great, and highly distinguishable, vocal abilities.
Dutch producer, Tijs Michiel Verwest – who you’ll know better as Tiësto – has become a household name throughout his career as one of the best trance producers, constantly flirting with the line between artistically good and crowd pleasing. His latest release, A Town Called Paradise, unfortunately, goes miles beyond that line.
The album features an impressive 18 tracks, 15 of which feature vocalists. Some of the best produced albums benefit from a stable, underlying theme, but not to the point where you can’t distinguish songs from each other, as is with the case with A Town Called Paradise.
There’s very little trance to be heard on the album, if any at all. If you were a fan of the In Search of Sunrise series, or any of Tiësto albums, you’re in for disappointment.
The first four tracks of the album, including the title track, are absolutely indistinguishable from any other EDM you would hear on the radio; abrasive synthesizers, meaningless chorus, throw your hands in the air and wait for the drop.
‘Written in Reverse’ is the first track on the album that indulges, using a very short electro-like hook that is over faster than you can realise what happened. The next song, ‘Echoes’, featuring singer Andreas Moe, who you may recognise from Avicii’s ‘Fade Into Darkness’ and utilises more electro influences, but is quite short-lived.
It really doesn’t get much better from there. Actually, saying it “doesn’t get much better” implies it was decent at some point which is a big fat lie. It’s horrendous. You’re constantly listening to cheesy EDM lines followed by awful, noisy drops. There is little musical value, and little to distinguish any of the tracks from each other. Diving into specific songs seems a little redundant, besides maybe ‘Rocky’, which sounds suspiciously similar to Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’, and ‘Shimmer’, featuring returning singer Christian Burns, who you’ll remember from Tiesto’s ‘In the Dark’ or Armin Van Buuren’s ‘This Light Between Us’.
Disappointing and, quite frankly, tedious, A Town Called Paradise is not just a mindless crowd-pleaser, but an exasperating and often irritating one. If you’re a fan of regurgitated, sub-par music and lyrics, this is the album and artist for you. We want that hour of our lives back.