Available on: Planet Mu LP
Young Smoke, aka David Davis (no, not that one) is a member of the youthful Chicago-based Flight Muzik clique headed up by DJ Diamond. Diamond’s LP for Mu last year revealed a similarly psychedelic bent to this, Davis’ debut on the world stage. But if Diamond’s Flight Muzik was suspended in the lower atmosphere, still at points grounded in its sampled heritage but often attaining its own distinct weightlessness, then Space Zone has almost broken free of the earth’s gravitational pull. Young Smoke’s soundworld – a largely self-generated landscape of svelte bleeps, metallic pads and snippets of robotic speech – is effortlessly characterful, making him a distinctive young voice in a scene already saturated with talent.
That’s not to say Davis doesn’t touch on some familiar footwork themes: ‘High Den A Mother Fucker’ plays with a vocal sample or two in the usual style; the brass samples of closer ‘Heat Impact’ churn and yammer in time-worn fashion. But in many respects Space Zone is the polar opposite of Mu’s last footwork outing, from scene veteran Traxman: heritage-steeped sampladelia replaced with crisp, uncluttered synthscapes; decades of experience replaced with a smart, if subtle, iconoclasm. Of course, all this would be for naught if Davis’ production chops weren’t up to much. Fortunately he handles his structures with consummate ease, making these tracks scrupulously lean, concise and punchy.
Under the album’s loosely articulated space theme, Davis’ productions cluster into a few distinct types. There’s the moments of sugary overload which, in the case of the sickly title track, may prove too much for some to bear, but elsewhere provide curious delights: ‘Let Go’, a steroid-pumped pop ballad hacked into manageable chunks; ‘Lazer Hornz’, where a brash synth loop is pulverised and reconstituted as a disorientating cloud of atoms; and the brilliant ‘Believe In Me’, whose heartfelt backbone becomes the vehicle for an eye-wateringly intense barrage of subbass and hyper-detailed flurries of percussion.
Elsewhere, the astral melodrama can be gloriously overblown – as in ‘Warning’ and ‘Destroy Him My Robots’, both of which deploy robotic vocal samples and obnoxious klaxons to blistering effect. But there are just as many moments of slightly wonked repose – ‘Futuristic Musick’, ‘Space Muzik Pt.2’, the aptly titled ‘Space Breeze’ – the cool tranquility of space as viewed from the comfort of the observation deck, maybe. More compelling still are the tracks that pivot between smiling forthrightness and paranoia: the bright but twisted ‘Alien Pad’ and ‘Liquid Drug’, the dead-eyed ‘Traps In Space’, whose lead line sounds fatally starved of oxygen, and the bouncy, drum’n’bass-tinged ‘Korrupted Star’.
At this stage it’s hard to imagine Planet Mu releasing a duff footwork album; their job is, arguably, an easy one given the wealth of talent currently lurking in Chicago’s sports halls and community centres. But Space Zone keeps the bar propped up impressively high without treading back over old ground, suggesting that Footwork’s young guns, as well as its seasoned elders, continue to have something worthwhile to contribute.