Album: Un:mxd & Manipulated
Genre: Darkstep, Dubstep
So, it is exciting for me to get this subduxtion release for review. For you see, subduxtion is the newest (I think) alter ego of Christophe G., perhaps better know for his work as Re: dux tion. I got acquainted with Re: dux tion way back when, when he sent his ambient masterpiece “A Disordered Imagination” in for review. I thought that was quite a solid ambient album, and I am interested in seeing how he has progressed. Not sure if there is a specific genre or theme behind subduxtion, but and I don’t know much ‘bout that dnb, but if there is a genre called Darkstep than I think this would embody it.
To be honest this is some of the worst packaging I’ve come across. We have two squares of obviously home printed labels attached to a clear plastic casing. The labels are of incredibly poor quality, not to mention they are so pixelated/blurry that I can hardly make out the tracklist. It doesn’t even contain the name of the band/album…if I didn’t have the press release I would have no idea what this record even was. For being on a label, this looks worse than a number of demos I have received…
Well thankfully the actual music is nothing like the cover. Subduxtion hits the listener with a cacophony of ‘dark step’…that is basically to say: slow, hard & mildly distorted beats coupled with dark menacing ambiance and some filtery bass a la drum and bass. I’ve got to say that I love dark evil drum and bass, and I love anything that has dark brooding atmosphere, so this concept of darkstep sounds quite appealing. Subduxtion manages to pull it off rather well, the beats are fierce and pounding and the atmospheres conjure up dark filthy sewers and ill-kept alleyways of an dystopic city, left to fester in disease and anarchy. The basslines which come straight out of your-evil-dnb-dj-of-choice manage to sit nicely with their surroundings and actually add to the darkness of the tracks. Subduxtion also makes good use of subtle mechanical melodies that keep the listeners attention while he pounds away. Throughout the whole 7 tracks there is the constant atmosphere of dystopic city, patrolled by vermin and cyber soldiers. Clanking mechanical doors of abandoned warehouses full of illegal drug and arms deals abound.
There is a pretty good balance of sounds on this record; there are plenty of low drones and bass, and to balance it out there is good use of high end noise and distortion. There is a decent use of panning to give instruments room to breath and seep through the muck. Unfortunately the leveling is pretty bad, and most of the sounds that come in and out that aren’t part of a beat are way too loud and stick out more than they should. There are some cool atonal ambient sounds and some cool sampling…one of the tracks has clips of female vocals that fit perfectly and add another dimension to the sound. Unfortunately even though there are a plethora of interesting sounds being used on the record, it can be pretty difficult to make them out at times.
The Achilles heel of this record is it’s production…or lack thereof. There are many good elements used on this record, but the lackluster production keeps them from shining or reaching their full magnitude. Instead of sounding like a truly fitting soundtrack to Shadowrun, it just ends up sounding like some basement demo. The levels are fairly uneven, most tracks have noises that obviously stick out as being too loud and most of the high end is unnecessary and ends up taking up headroom and sounding abrasive when the beat should have a smoother quality. Another strange quality is that as the record progresses the production quality seems to decline. By the last couple of tracks the instruments/sounds are so muddy and so many frequencies are overlapping and battling each other that I can’t even tell if there is a beat or just white noise and distortion. There seems to be distortion on every element on this record and when you use too much distortion things begin to lose their dynamics and sound brittle and weak. That is the case for many of the melodious elements. There will be a cool melody, but it will sound overly saturated/distorted and ready to break apart at any moment. I listened to this side by side to some drum and bass, and this album sounds really thin and weak by comparison. It lacks punch and wideness that could have brought out the true depth of that which subduxtion is trying to convey. There seems to have been no mastering done whatsoever, which is quite a shame. It could have hugely benefited from some good polishing and volume pumping. As I stated, there are in fact many good sounds and ideas presented on this album, but poor production keeps most of them hidden in muddy static.
Artistic Merit: 4/10
I think that had this record been produced better, it would have some definite artistic value. It is probably in part because I don’t listen to music like this (if there is even music like this out there), but to me this sounds totally different than so much that I am familiar with. I think the combination of dark ambient textures and hard albeit downtempo industrial-esque beats, but done with a drum and bass mindset is a fabulous idea, but this is hardly a good representation of the potential fruit of that endeavor.
The flow here is pretty good, the tracks are all of a similar atmosphere (think movie score), so that they all fit together pretty nicely in their line up. To be honest I think you could listen to them in any order and it would sound equally as good. In my opinion its kind of like a map of a city. Each track represents looking at a section or neighborhood of the dystopic cityscape, and it doesn’t matter the order in which you view each neighborhood, as in the end you have seen the entire city. So to that end, I think that each track kind of builds on each other to provide a more complete glimpse of an idea, and because that works well, the album can’t help but have a good flow.
I really want to love this album. It presents some really potentially excellent soundscapes and textures that aid my mind to see subduxtion’s visions of the future while bobbing my head to the rhythm. It does a very good job of capturing the feeling/sound of a dystopic city (again, the best example I can give is Shadowrun), but the bottom line is that the weak and lackluster production keeps this album from being great or noteworthy. As it stands, it looks and sounds like a demo, and it has a hard time standing up against acts like Edgey who do similar things but with a lot cleaner and bigger sound. If this were a free download I would say check it out, but I don’t know if its really worth paying for. Oh also, the album name sucks. I feel like this could have been an awesome concept or visionary album…that is, if the album and track titles had a more consistent naming convention…but even though the sound has a very puzzle-esque smaller-parts-of-a-whole quality to it, there seems to be no cohesion in or idea behind the naming. Too bad.
My advice to subduxtion is to please just throw down some money for good mastering and get a proper release for your next work, including a real jewel case with a professionally printed booklet!! He has the skill and vision for something great, and I hope he realizes it and seriously raises the bar for himself in the future.