First making a name for himself with a series of 12’s on grassroots dubstep/bass labels Frijsfo Beats and Mata-Syn in the late-noughties, 27 year old Jack ‘Sully’ Stevens has been a pivotal name in the exploration of dubstep’s rootsy, swinging garage sound. Productions like ‘Phonebox’ and ‘Track Side’ saw the Norwich-based producer explore the rhythm patterns of turn-of-the-century UKG, whilst turning his keen ear to the dark, hypnotic sounds of the then rapidly-developing dubstep sound.
A relative outsider to the scene, its easy to forget just how vital those early releases from the Norfolk boy sounded, with a post-Burial world now embracing the likes of Darkstar, Zomby and the Hyperdub master himself.
Released on Blackdown’s Keysound Recordings label (responsible for 2009’s Sully anthem ‘The Loot/In Some Pattern’), ‘Carrier’ sees the fabled ‘King of Swing’ stepping up a gear, as he presents a 10 track album of sharp UK bass, taking the raw, smoked-out garage rhythms he made his name with, and entwining them with UK funky/house steppers, vivid grime instrumentals and flawless juke workouts.
‘It’s Your Love’ sets the tone nicely with a muted 2-step rhythm – all hollowed out kicks and woodblock percussion – and mixing it with the kind of eyes-down atmospherics that original dubstep fans will take to with relish. As album opener’s go, it’s a deep and dark affair, yet cleans the palette nicely for the dramatics to follow.
‘2Hearts’, the 2008 track labeled for Burial’s mythically unreleased DJ Kicks compilation continues the garage flex with aplomb, as stepping DND rhythmics mix with swirling, effects-laden keys, echoed diva samples and a simple yet mournful 3 note melody. ‘In Some Pattern’ makes a welcome appearance, sounding as strong as ever amidst the ‘Future Garage’-soaked sounds of 2011, whilst ‘Encona’ starts out like a standard Sully staple, before deftly launching into a jackin’ UK funky riddim, yet strained through the producers deftly spaced and open production style.
‘Let You Know’ demonstrates Sully’s first public experiment with juke/footwork, joining the likes of Kuedo, Philip D. Kick and Sepalcure in depicting a UK slant on the Windy City’s fertile new genre. The track has ‘FWD>> banger’ stamped firmly on it’s DNA, as the Chicago sound is inter-bred with punching bass kicks, razor snares and an insistent, pitched-up vocal.
‘Scram’ looks back to 2002/3 with Wiley’s ‘Ice Rink’ versions an obvious influence, again pushing up the tempo to mix rolling juke percussion and stripped, cheap orchestration that just begs to have one of grime’s originals take 16 bars over the top.
Though many debut electronic long players may require vocal tracks to keep the average listener coming back (fellow Keysound outfit LV letting Joshua Idehen explain exactly how on their fantastic ‘Routes’ album earlier this year), ‘Carrier’ survives by sticking to its guns, the inclusion of the human voice always pitched up or down, swamped in effects or simply cut up to single syllable sections, sewn back together to present cold, emotive and yearning computer music.
‘I Know’ does this to perfection, a standout footwork-inflected ballad, that explores the emotive possibilities of the genre with rattling drum fills and cut up, wailing diva vocals that bring about one of the finest Chicago rhythms since DJ Clent’s ‘I Love You’.
There are weaker sections here, as ‘Trust’ repeats the tricks of ‘I Know’ to lesser effect, though the soaring eighties synth work and slight reverb make for a heartfelt effort, whilst ‘Bonafide’ is effectively a distillation of the two former tracks, yet with ’92-era rave piano.
Yet as short closer ‘Exit’ demonstrates, what Sully creates across the course of ‘Carrier’ is a set of tracks that manage to step outside the heavy constraints of current fashions, delivering a confident exploration into the mystic underbelly of underground club music, and the emotions therein. A solid release from an all too elusive artist.
‘Carrier’ is out now on Keysound Recordings.