Since his debut tracks for Plastician’s Terrorhythm back in 2010, Jim ‘Om Unit’ Coles has been creating his own visceral language via the UK’s low-end landscape, one that has seen him touch upon synth heavy, swung ‘wonky’ (remember that journalistic abhorrence?), space-age dubstep infusions and hard-hitting Drexciya-indebted electro. The latter, in the form of the peerless ‘The Timps’ EP, saw the Om Unit project find a home on London’s Civil Music imprint in 2011, and it’s that same label that acted as the chrysalis for his steady mutation into one of the UK’s front-runners of 170bpm drum’n’bass fusion.
Coles’ obvious appreciation of jungle music’s golden era saw his referential work as Phillip D. Kick blow up across Europe and beyond – his melding of footwork with classic examples of the genre (Krome & Time’s ‘The License’, Omni Trio’s ‘Renegade Snares’), alongside a collaborative project with Machinedrum as Dream Continuum, helping to bring the vintage sounds of mid-90’s London underground culture to fresh ears. So it’s along these referential tracks that we find the debut Om Unit album heading, with fifteen cuts of high tempo bass works, machine funk and astral soundscapes.
Opener ‘Folding Shadows’ finds us on familiar territory, as half-time rim shots blend with searing synth notes and the occasional acid squelch, clearing the way for the heavily emotive ‘The Silence’, which, despite an exemplary use of space and superbly EQ’d percussion, can’t escape the Marmite qualities of vocalist Jinadu’s almost Steve Tyler-eque squawk. It’s with ‘Healing Rain’ that things really start to come to life, as heavy rainfall surrounds layered, looping effects, rude bass pads and a remarkable ear for sound design, with thunder claps and a looped vocal sample simply adding to the overall effect.
‘Reverse Logic’ works it’s way out of the preceding ‘Drift Interlude’ with finesse, a stuttered kick drum and muted stabs ratcheting up the tension before a softened, almost samba-like rhythm of melodic bass pulses catch the listener off guard. This serve to create a deep and warm atmosphere that could almost be an update of Robin Millar’s best work with Sade, were it not for the heavy-as-fuck jungle break that pushes through the mix at every sixteen. Meanwhile ‘Corridor 2013’ sees the lead track from Coles’ 2010 breakthrough EP converted from a stepping, skipping bass refraction into a cerebral d’n’b tempo killer, all aquatic bass, mournful chants and skittering high end percussion, whilst ‘Deep Sea Pyramid’ reaches deep in the drum’n’bass template with a mixture creeping atmospherics and honed 808 claps sounding not unlike something from Soul:R’s mid-noughties ‘DAT:Music’ collection.
The weakest tracks on offer are without doubt a couple of unneeded vocal contributions – MC Jabu irritates over the top of ‘Patients’ whilst Charlie Dark detracts from the darkly ethereal closing track ‘The Road’. Yet things are tied together expertly within the confines of ‘Jus Sayin’, featuring a sterling effort from US talent Gone The Hero – otherwise known as Lex Records cohort Jneiro Jarel – that easily aligns itself with the rapper/producer extraordinaire’s output on much overlooked 2007 album ‘Craft of the Lost Art’.
To these ears it’s in the more explicitly junglistic tracks where ‘Threads’ really succeeds. The outstanding collection of ‘Nagual’, ‘Wall of Light’, ‘Jaguar’, ‘Wicker’ and Pearl’ and the bruising ‘Governors Bay’ see the training ground of Phillip D. Kick material paying dividends, as the Om Unit sound turns to rolling dancefloor soundscapes, coming with expansive nods to the likes of Goldie, Rob Playford and Bukem within the rich sea of sound on offer. ‘Wicker and Pearl’ growls it’s way along in the mould of a straight up modern drum’n’bass crowd-mover à la the Autonomic sound, whilst ‘Governors Bay’ in particular dips into Coles’ recent work on Metalheadz, with waves of sub bass bedding down with shards of synth colour, snapping snare work and rattling percussion straight from DJ Die’s hard drive.
Updating a traditionally futuristic sound can result in pastiche, homage or overly reverential doffs of the cap, all of which are intelligently swerved throughout the course of this record. Though perhaps not pushing the envelope quite enough for the typically fast-moving drum’n’bass crowd (much of the rhythmic developments here have previously been explored by the likes of Martyn, Instra:mental, dBridge and Klute a few years back), ‘Threads’ remains an intriguing listen throughout, and finds an attractive standpoint somewhere between it’s own strains of influence. Richly absorbing, acutely realised and meticulously constructed stuff.
‘Threads’ is available now via Civil Music.