Available on: Punch Drunk LP
Bristol’s bass music sound lately seems to lean towards the dark and dubby or the garishly colourful. Arguably the city’s most revered current label, Peverelist’s Punch Drunk imprint has dipped its toes into both ends in the past, and now dives head first into the neon side of things for the debut LP from Guy ‘Guido’ Middleton, whose two singles for the label were at the very top of 2009’s heap. On said singles, ‘Orchestral Lab’ and ‘Beautiful Complication’, Guido’s swooping tapestries and heaving basslines proved addictive; synthesized versions of live instruments invading this usually bassline and percussion-preoccupied music, with crossover appeal to those outside dubstep’s insular world. Compiling those two singles with semi-recent dubplates and brand new material, Anidea is a cohesive album that manages to feel broad and exploratory while staying sharply focused, sticking close to Guido’s strengths. Albums don’t come more solid than this.
Anidea gets off to a rolling start with its title track, which feels more spacious and reserved than Guido’s earlier work. Where previously he would blanket tracks with sound, ‘Anidea’ is all about space; sounds echoing off discrete surfaces, gaudy adornments making subtle entries in between beats instead of hogging the spotlight. The soundstaging here is incredible, never crowded even when the elements converge for a glorious climax of piano, drums, strings, and horns in gorgeous, lifelike vivacity. ‘Woke Up Early’ continues in the same careful vein, with thick synths rubbing up against each other, while ‘Take Me Higher’ slows things down for a contemplative, piano-driven slow jam replete with chipmunk vocals. The album ends with a trio of Guido’s grimiest productions, the cheeky low-slung early Joker pastiche of ‘Tango’ complementing the moody ‘Shades Of Blue’, which is driven by shimmering shards of metallic synths. It closes on its biggest sounding track: ‘Tantalized’ quakes with monstrous drums, wobbling LFOs and a surprisingly well-executed synth-guitar solo.
Middleton’s also more adept with vocals than we previously thought: the alien R’n’B of last year’s ‘Beautiful Complication’ is reprised here, even sleeker in the context of Anidea. Far from a fluke, the tracks with vocals stick out: ‘You Do It Right’ sends a vocal sample tumbling down a prickly pathway of descending synths and prodding strings, as gated drums attempt to make sense of the song’s relentless forward motion. ‘Mad Sax’ – which is already becoming ubiquitous, delighting DJs – interrupts its grating, tenacious horn riff with pitched-to-oblivion squeals, and when those vocals hit, they’re cushioned by overwhelming, warm jet streams of pure pleasure. That’s just one of a handful of tiny details on Anidea that make the step up from accomplished to near-perfection, as in the sinogrime-influenced ‘Cat In The Window’, when a glorious horn riff emerges in the final minute.
Tucked away in the second half of Anidea is its most divisive and attention-grabbing track, one that sees Guido dropping a vocal by fellow Bristolian Yolanda (who featured on Pinch’s ‘Get Up’, and has worked with Massive Attack) on his already classic 94bpm trudge ‘Way U Make Me Feel’. The track was once the barest of Middleton’s oeuvre, with primitive thuds nudging up against filtered sax and italo-esque strings blowing like icy gusts. On Anidea, Yolanda’s vocal saturates the track with a soaring chorus and fills in all the previous space, cooing and pecking out each syllable like a famished pigeon. It’s a prescient and fitting match that justifies putting yet another old track on a new album, and an addition that feels like it was a long time coming; it feels right.
Even with the presence of previously released material, Anidea is an irresistibly minty breath of fresh air in a scene sometimes obsessed with monochromatic brooding. Besides, when a track still sounds as fresh as the astounding ‘Orchestral Lab’, how could it be left off? This album is a sometimes close-to-perfect fusion of R&B, grime and pop into a dubstep template equally accessible to scene stalwarts and outsiders. Restrained at just over fifty minutes, it’s the perfect length and sequenced so that it never drags or loses steam, instead hitting with enjoyable track after enjoyable track.
Indeed, “enjoyable” seems the key word here: forget experimentation and its implications, Anidea is just an album that’s easy to sit down with and effortlessly enjoy. It would be easy to say that Guido can now join the pantheon of Important Dubstep(-ish) Albums along with Burial, Shackleton, Kode9 and Peverelist, but with his unique grasp of melody, colour and instrumentation, maybe he deserves a section all to his own.