Distal – ‘Civilisation’ (Tectonic Recordings)

American producer Distal has been rapidly gaining notoriety over the last couple of years via releases for labels such as Tectonic, Soul Jazz and Seclausias. He set up his own label Embassy Recordings with school friend and serial collaborator Mite in 2010, and now his unique producing style has earned him a debut album on Tectonic that he’s entitled ‘Civilisation’.

Distal began producing with a love of techno, jungle, hardcore and the southern hip-hop of his native Atlanta, and he has no small amount of skill when it comes to blending these influences together with the bass culture and drum programming that have been so influential over the last couple of years. The running synth pattern on ‘Venom’ is taken straight from the old school and given new life with a detailed drum arrangement that ebbs between stop and flow, the tension this creates then enhanced by flexes of meaty bass, with the whole thing is punctuated by menacing declarations of ‘Straight From The Hood’ and ‘Represent The Street’.

Another defining quality of Distal’s approach is his ability to drastically switch the tempo or atmosphere without causing so much as a ripple of discontinuity, allowing him to cover a vast array of moods both on individual tracks and the album as a whole. Third track ‘Preach On Hustle’ for example starts out with a piercing vocal loop and swinging subs that create a deliberately aggressive mood, only for a gentle ambiance to come in and completely turn the tune on its head. The subs suddenly become warm pulses that are almost nurturing, while the vocal becomes a playful chorus in an unashamedly summery vibe.

The variety continues across the album with the dancehall flavour and heavy bass pressure of ‘Rattlesnake’, the pinned down unease ‘Around The Fire’ takes on techno sensibilities and tracks like ‘House Party Five’, ‘Drop Like This’, ‘Anti-Cool’ and ‘Temple People’ show off Distal’s touch for melodic yet floor-killing juke.

The whole album is cohesive work of many influences, but it’s on ‘Gorilla’ that his juxtaposition of different structures is most brilliantly constructed on a single track. Here the ominously slow moving background of haughty bass feels like a low-end warning siren while an uncomplicated but stirring synth melody matches its pace and enhances the anxious tone. Embedded in that, however, are the hurrying notes of a tribal beat, which again add to the sense of agitation, and as the track progresses a growing wave of distortion rises from within to create a real sense of impending dread, capping a simply masterful composition of contrasting elements.

What you’re left with at the end is a hugely rewarding album that pushes you through all manner of emotions, from the jump up energy of ‘Drop Like This’ to the intimidation of ‘Around The Fire’ and ‘Gorilla’, all interspersed with moments of unbridled warmth and serenity. It’s not often that electronic music covers so much ground in the space of one record, and it’s even rarer that it does it with this much quality.

Robert McCorquodale

‘Civilisation’ will be released via Tectonic Recordings on April 30.

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