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The Sound Of The Overground (9/10),
This review is from: Condors (Audio CD)
Now that dubstep has gone overground, it pays to be careful with reviews like this. Fanboys are likely to reject hybrids such as Nedry, and be equally vehement in their condemnation of reviewers who don't know their steppin' onions.
Nevertheless, it is worth stating that most listeners' exposure to the movement has been limited to trendy remixes by the likes of Skream, perhaps to cursory appreciation of Burial's Mercury-nominated Untrue and maybe to the odd nod and shuffle at some genre-specific nightspot. However, this is on the change.
The xx included the lightest flourishes of dub into their minimal mash-up of guitars, R&B and electronic pop. These New Puritans have taken a more aggressive stance on their widely-hailed Hidden. Combining Kid A and Amnesiac-style beats, they layer near-tribal and/or junglistic rhythms onto synthesised, heavy bass pulses. And now Nedry have delved back further into time to bring together Portishead-type influences with this most distinct electronic shift of recent years.
That it all works so seamlessly is first testament to Beth Gibbons and company and shows how far ahead of the curve they were, and secondly to Nedry themselves. They may not win fans amongst the diehard stepping community, but they'll gain plenty from elsewhere.
Inevitably there will be comparison to The xx. Both are from London, both are doing something excitingly different and both can be bundled roughly within the same brackets. Both hybrids have crossover appeal to the alternative scene, and probably to the popular one. However, despite a similar sense of slyly creeping menace in both records, Nedry occupy an entirely different space.
They wisely depend on their vocalist Ayu Okakita to supply most of Condors' atmospherics. Her voice floats, haunts, soars, drifts and any other such cliché in this vein. Truly, it bridges the distance between Björk's other-worldliness and Beth Gibbons' disinterest. Backing up these stunning lungs we meet alternating, minimal guitar rhythms and varied levels of dub, and this is where Condors gets interesting.
Okakita's vocal is simply great, the guitar is merely support, the dub is fresh - but crucially only to crowds without much prior exposure. Together, parts of Condors are a new vein of post-rock, others in genre-bending ambience. Others still flirt strongly enough with dub to fall wholly into that classification.
Their current signature "Apples & Pears" doubles as their showcase flagship. It's wonky, speaker-bothering stuff that flits from left to right in stereo, sonically inhabiting space via distortion. Dub aside, Condors, and indeed "Apples & Pears", is a restrained affair, built on anonymous rhythm guitar, ambience and purposeful bass - bring it in however and often all hell breaks loose.
The beats of "Squid Cat Battle" are altogether dirtier and more aggressive, and those low-end pulses bubble and simmer throughout. Okakita even gets a little Elizabeth Frazer on us, emoting in unintelligible exasperation. Often breaking with key changes, it is ripe for an absolutely banging remix. Speaking of which, Condors is very much a statement of ability rather than intent and it will certainly catch many an ear. Do not be surprised to see Nedry farmed out for remix duty for the remainder of 2010.
The title track is full of glottal punctuations and tribal rhythms, the vocal here at its most reminiscent to Gibbons. The most squarely guitar-driven material on Condors come courtesy of "Scattered" and even then its tripping beats and squelchy overlay recall early Prodigy at their finest. The choppy synth patterns and reverb-ed guitar on offer later devolve into bleeps and low-octave twiddling as the track wobbles to a close.
This confidence to vary their influences and ultimately output helps Condors out of obvious pigeonholes - it jumps and skitters, plucking what it fancies from seemingly any genre. Had dubstep never arisen, Nedry may well have just been a credible and largely ambient Portishead tribute. With it, they are in a world of their own.