Available on: Young Turks LP
For those unfamiliar with Bullion, here’s the story so far. His real name is Nathan Jenkins, a lad in his mid twenties, born and raised in West London. Three years ago he self-released a “mash up” album of the Beach Boys and J Dilla called Songs In The Key Of Dee, mastered by veteran garage don MJ Cole, and watched it become a viral sensation on the internet within days, catapulting his name around the globe. As the ensuing 8-bit, lo-fi “beat scene” began gathering pace, he was at the forefront with a gritty, bass heavy dance floor anthem called ‘Get Familiar’, released on One Handed Music, the quirky imprint owned by Stones Throw’s Alex Chase. More releases followed on the same label to critical acclaim, the best known an EP of contemporary beat-driven love songs called Young Heartache, showing that this fresh faced composer literally wears his heart on his sleeve. And with the ‘Say Goodbye To What’ 7” from earlier this year, it seemed as though he was loosening the assemblage points of his music, transposing sampled voices into new contexts, and creating a kind of modern, sun-drenched psychedelic cut’n’paste that the term “chill wave” fall several eons short of describing adequately. With the likes of Zane Lowe, Gorilla vs. Bear and Adrian Sherwood all singing his praises, and much lauded remixes of Tricky and Amadou and Miriam under his belt, the Bullion train has been gathering steam at a dizzying pace. Small wonder then, that the latest effort You Drive Me To Plastic is brought to us by Young Turks Records, the ultra-hip home of mercury prize winners the xx, as well as Holy Fuck, Sbtrkt and many more.
At nine songs, 21 mins total, You Drive Me To Plastic is neither an EP nor an album, nor a beat-tape, nor a mixtape, and yet manages to touch on all of these notions at once. On first listen, it’s immediately striking how diverse the range of material is, and how many ideas are crammed into a short space of time, as though Bullion is taking us through a whistle-stop tour of his record collection at warp speed. If these are supposed to be “beats” they are devoid of the played-out signifiers – no looped breaks, no wobbly basslines, no squiggly 8 bit chirps – but the language of composition is entirely rooted in the hip-hop tradition. What is remarkable about this record is the ease with which Bullion draws disparate elements together, fusing them into a harmonious ensemble. Exotic percussion, jangling guitar lines and library grooves are married with hard-edged 80s retro-funk, plodding nu-wave synthesisers and krautrock drones, and though these all make for unlikely bedfellows, here they tessellate perfectly as if made to match.
The detailed intricacy and speed at which this record unfolds can feel jarring at first but rewards with repeat listens – the only comparison I can find is with the prog-hop of his One Handed peer Paul White, whose music is also built on restructuring found sounds into new shapes. But whereas Paul’s music skips onwards with a hip-hop swagger, a whip-crack snare and a neck-breaking swing, Bullion rejects any kind of rhythmic convention, opting for awkward, faster tempos, odd time signatures, afro-beat patterns, and beatless, dreamy interludes. It feels like he shares Paul’s quintessentially English sense of humour, as demonstrated by the audio jokes that pop up intermittently – the stoner dude who exclaims “to me, if a record can be played, it’s now”, the groupie who dreams of romance at ‘My Castle In England’, the horses that whiney on ‘Spirit Mighty’ and the Pythonesque intro ‘Wrong Door’, in which footsteps run from speaker to speaker, opening doors that contain the spectres of past Bullion releases.
Speaking of spectres, it is the faintly glowing ghosts of yesteryear that unite all the songs of this record. Though Nathan hasn’t drawn for the Brian Wilson box-set in years, it feels as though the reverb-drenched sunshine vocals of the Beach Boys have a lot to answer for in his sound. The voices whisper, chant, and float through the music, part acid flashback, part new age hymn, their words twisted beyond all comprehension, yet clearly communicating a heady, intoxicating dreaminess. As the deep dubby swirls of ‘Lol Express’ fade into the angular ooohs and ahhhs of ‘Too Right’, followed by the gregorian chants of ‘Spirit Mighty’, it seems like this producer is having far too much fun pushing the boundaries of what he does to reign himself in. Perhaps a recent tour in Africa has paid dividends on informing the Bill Laswell meets hi-life atmosphere throughout. There is definitely a global outlook, or “world music” feel to his latest work.
It’s hard to visualise exactly who the fanbase for this record will be. My guess is that the Italo funk of ‘Pressure To Dance’, the most instantly accessible track, will find as much favour in the record boxes of Mancuso disciples and bearded balearic warriors as it will on the dance floors of Dalston’s numerous basement clubs. Equally the blunted hip-hop head-nod crew will most definitely find something to pack their bowl to here. Overall, this is a mature and sophisticated record that will delight crate diggers of all ages, especially those searching for something with one foot in the past and one foot in the sound of tomorrow. A work of beguiling beauty, and an endearingly quirky listen, You Drive Me To Plastic is arguably his finest and most original work to date. If he can find it in himself to deliver a full length of this quality, then the future is golden.