Review: Om Unit – SUBMERGED01 (Submerged)

Om Unit’s ‘Submerged,’ delivers a visceral, dancefloor-conscious blueprint for the decade ahead, a highly recommended triumph in genre liminality.

This year marks a full decade of releases from Om Unit (aka Jim Coles). With 30+ releases and 3 full-length albums, Coles has carved out a fluid, versatile sonic identity.

As Om Unit, Coles explores a constantly evolving stream of tropes and images, each LP teasing a fresh glimpse into his artistic motivations and influences. Acclaimed debut album, ‘Threads’ (2013) radiates warm, slow-fast brilliance with an emphasis on brooding sub-bass and dark poetry, a nod to his roots in underground hip hop and his ever-present dubstep influences. A follow-up LP, ‘Inversion’ saw Coles tap into his jungle music past, flexing a destructive brand of breakbeat science and harrowing synth-work. Sampling vocals from UK rapper Jehst, as well as a menacing polemic from the late, great philosopher Alan Watts, ‘Inversion’ ties together a potent political commentary. His last album, ‘Self,’ remains Coles’ most personal release, a cinematic listen tinged with introspection and Jungian individuation.

Om Unit may be Coles’ favoured outlet for most of his recent work, but it is by no means his only project. The last few years have seen him unleash myriad styles under various pseudonyms, from his formative years of underground turntablism as 2tall to his recent stylings as Philip D Kick, a transatlantic fusion of jungle and Chicago footwork that undoubtedly foreshadowed the current 160bpm landscape.

Following on from last January’s ‘Violet’ EP, ‘Submerged’ marks the 2nd release in a ‘not-on-label’ series of Om Unit material. This step away from his Cosmic Bridge release-cycle suggests a change in Coles’ palette, a shift towards a more solemn and pensive realm. ‘Submerged’ spans six tracks, all of which fall at the same tempo – 160, a place Om Unit and some of his uptempo contemporaries like Fracture have chosen to frame their innovation.

The Opening track, ‘Patterning’, combines outlandish kicks with Om Unit’s trademark percussive syncopation, breaking out into cobalt, electro-infused flashes and soundsystem drones. Here, Coles displays his unparalleled ability to inject intimidating basslines with a sense of wild funk. As an opening track, it confidently establishes the temper of the EP, more bass-music leaning than the rest of the release.

Aptly named ‘A Groove’ carries the torch further, employing retro pads and soulful hip hop synth lines in a refreshing take on jungle-footwork, not dissimilar to Coles’ recent work on Fracture’s Astrophonica as Philip D. Kick. Yet this is an Om Unit interpolation to be sure, with a considered range of classic Chicago flair and scattered jungle breaks offering so much to be loved on this one.

‘Vertigo’ is beyond slick. A flustering technoid workout, Coles conjures a world where detroitist minimalism and stark dub aesthetics ooze into each other. An almost unintelligible vocal sample dances around the percussion and rogue sci-fi bleeps in a mesmeric call-and-response. Its heavy use of delay and sweeping filters make ‘Vertigo’ one of the moodiest tracks in Om Unit’s repertoire, a serious contender for highlight of the EP.

Side-B of the record opens with ‘Runes’. Drenched in reverb, the resounding dub-techno chords and piercing stabs rest on top of patient drums and formidable sub-bass. Coles’ transfer of imagery is at its strongest here, building up to 1:36, where glacial bassline-shards rise from arcane underwater depths. ‘Runes’ is reminiscent of ‘Violet EP’s closing track ‘Sleeping Dragon’ but implies a far darker, submerged landscape.

‘Long Summer’ brings back Coles’ signature, slow-fast drumwork and staccato synth swells, gliding over sparse and precise, timpani-like sub notes. The spliced breaks of the drum section cuts out just over halfway to make room for an enriching ambient outtro. A classy, beautiful piece of music that would make a perfect ending, if in the absence of closing track ‘Peninsula’

‘Peninsula’ doubles down on the dub-techno themes found throughout the EP, breathing heavy chords into transmuting acid basslines. Half-time kicks chug alongside delicate breakbeats forging a meditative banger that somehow falls under ambient as much as it is does dance music. At this point it is clear that ‘Submerged EP’ can invoke a powerful response across multiple sonic environments.

Om Unit offers a headsy cross-pollination of aesthetics, and although entirely at ‘160’, we can still see a producer airing tons of influence from nearly every corner of dance music. ‘Submerged’ is a triumph in genre liminality that delivers a visceral, dancefloor-conscious blueprint for the decade ahead. Highly recommended!

SUBMERGED01 drops January 31st. Buy it here

Words: Sean Hughes

NEXT: Om Unit – Studio Talk

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