The anticipation behind Magnetic Man’s self-titled debut album has been built up as something that could very well be another milestone in the seemingly never-ending rise of dubstep. Well-known DJs Skream, Benga, and Artwork are the men behind the moniker and have already had some mainstream success this year. I Need Air broke into the Top 10 on the UK singles chart after heavy rotation on BBC Radio 1, sitting alongside such radio playlist luminaries such as Katy Perry and Flo Rida – admittedly, pretty illustrious company.
For some, Magnetic Man is being touted as the genre’s most direct attempt at turning what has for so long been an underground phenomenon into a commercial success. However, when you actually listen to it, it’s not quite as straightforward as this. The main thing to take away initially is that Magnetic Man are constantly shifting dynamics from dark and claustrophobic to light and melody-friendly, sometimes even in the same track. This is best illustrated when comparing the two lengthier tunes on the LP. Anthemic is a slow grind that mixes throbbing bass with trance-style synths, whilst Ping Pong takes on a beat that ends up feeling quite sinister as it builds up with vicious-sounding drum pads and a repetitive melody that is ridiculously hypnotising.
It’s not all instrumental though. Ms Dynamite, John Legend, Angela Hunter and rising star of the scene Katy B add some guest vocals throughout and, ultimately, it’s these songs that provide much of the thrills. Ms Dynamite intersperses a melodic refrain (“Set them free and let them fly tonight”) and some dub-style rapping in the verses against a heavy, thudding bassline. The Bug is similar – its vocals alternating between whispered mantras and deep, gravelled auto-tune chanting.
Other highlights include Karma Crazy, which is accompanied in its sound by some excellent slabs of orchestral strings, whilst Mad is almost unrelenting in its driving rhythm and perhaps the closest the album gets to respecting the roots of the genre. The main problem is that this record does feel a bit bloated due to its lengthy running time.
Some tracks, including K Dance, feel more like filler than anything else. As such, listeners may well feel tempted to cherry pick from what’s on offer. It’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but it’s frustrating to realise that an hour could have been a more concise forty-five minutes. In the end, this album falls victim to a classic ‘supergroup’ pitfall: too much music and no definitive guiding member to oversee quality control.
That said, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about Magnetic Man despite the baggy excess in its second half. The balance between dark and light is thrilling; it’s not overly in favour of one or the other and it makes for an excellent portrayal of what dubstep is in 2010 and where it might be headed. It’s not spectacular but it is a reliable and solid effort. Whether this is a pivotal moment for the genre remains to be seen.