Second Storey – ‘Double Divide’ (Houndstooth)

Double Divide, Alec ‘Al Tourettes’ Storey’s first LP, clearly has designs on the grand auteur stylings that highlight British dance music’s past. The producer’s more eclectic leanings though mean the synthesis of complexity and danceability found in the work of someone like Photek is out of reach. Even so there is potential for that to be a good thing, an effective harnessing of the variety found in the current UK Bass scene, but sadly the majority of ideas here have been executed better elsewhere, from the too-short run of high/low-minded Bristolian bass label Skull Disco to the more furious, Americanophile stylings of Ital Tek.

‘North Facing’ would be a pleasant enough overture were it not such a self-conscious ‘Introduction to the Album’. Short of Untold’s straight-faced trolling on ‘5 Wheels’, it’s hard to remember the last time one of these cursory nods to the live intro was interesting. The aimless shuffle continues on ‘Reserved’ until, seemingly from nowhere, Storey gives us a beautifully disguised, defiantly old school drop, a call back to a time when Dubstep’s (relative) subtlety made it so much mightier. It might be a predictable move were it not so well executed; Storey eventually wraps his bassline around the track’s drums, no longer fractured but propulsive.

‘Reserved’ and the following ‘Combustion Hallmark’ demonstrate how although the booming, intricate sound design of masterful contemporary Objekt looms large, at its’ heart ‘Double Divide’ is a record that lives and dies by the interplay between its two principal influences, the best British Bass Music of the past decade – from Digital Mystikz to Midland – and, as its press release attests, the so-called ‘Intelligent Dance Music’ of such luminaries as Aphex Twin and Autechre. On the latter, Storey attempts Aphexian dread in tandem with the sort of big room, feigned stutter the likes of Ben UFO have recently made the cornerstone of their DJ sets. Frustratingly though, no matter what he adds to the track it sounds oddly bare, as if one is observing its brutality from afar.

Storey demonstrates the level of wordplay his new moniker would suggest with the sigh-inducing title of ‘Shaman Champagne’, but you can almost see what he’s getting at. It’s a self-consciously weird exercise atop eight minutes of muted champagne rave, its finest moment the Twin Peaks-evoking manipulation of post-Underworld pan pipes. The lead single, it serves as an apt manifesto for the album, with little in the way of genuine club fare or home listening replay value but enough ideas to keep you interested.

‘One Sound’ is L.I.E.S. via fabric’s Room 1, all squirting synths and that just-on-time kick that sounds like two heavyweights going ten rounds in a metal box. Next track ‘Devotion Notion’ takes two and a half minutes to introduce its own oft-interrupted rhythm, which frankly in 2014 sounds less subversive than just following a roller with another one. Taken with ‘North Facing’, you get the sense that Second Storey fancies trying his hand at soundtrack work: some of the spacier stuff here isn’t so much Drexciya as David Attenborough, and the pointless ‘Protozoan Milkshake’ could just as well be an outtake from that eight-hour Billy Corgan synth opus.

‘The Overview Effects (Parts 1 & 2)’ threatens to continue this self-seriousness, but the first section contains the record’s best use of vocals, and an artful sci-fi build up to an explosive but considered release. Nonetheless, the second part’s extended outro seems unnecessarily reverent of what has gone before. The delightful closer ‘Chordelia’ is the one point on the album where you’re happy that Storey is largely content for his productions not to go anywhere, revelling so enjoyably in its own depths. With little momentum to interrupt, ‘Chordelia’ would perhaps make more sense in the middle of the tracklisting, representing as it does the album’s heart.

‘Double Divide’ looks to the album-length statements of Storey’s forebears, encouraged, it would seem, both by Houndstooth’s largely laudable inclination towards musical ambition and artist development and the wider industry’s continuing, inexplicable fixation on the LP. Nonetheless, it remains deeply rooted in the restless sounds and stylings of UK Bass’ cutting edge, and with Storey’s head apparently caught between so-called Intelligent Dance Music and a more dancefloor-oriented direction, the album ultimately succeeds at neither, while at times hinting Storey could at both.

‘Double Divide’ is out now on Houndstooth. Buy it here.

Gabriel Everington

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