Dubstep is now old enough as a form of music for its lead protagonists to be moving on to their second albums. As they do so it’s becoming clear there is plenty of life in the form, and the most recent long players of Burial and 2562 in particular have advanced considerably on the first. Now Scuba, aka Paul Rose, throws his hat into the ring for a second time.
Scuba’s effort is all the more impressive, however, for operating at a variety of speeds to support its nocturnal textures. This really is the music of London by night, peering down the dark alleyways, stepping gingerly over the burst water mains and around the disheveled roadworks, missing the last bus and having to walk home by long-closed takeaway shops.
All these visions and more are evoked by Rose, but crucially he hasn’t dwelt too much on the darkness in this record – rather he’s used it for atmospheric gain. Descent may initially evoke the blackness of night, but now and then a flare is lit, illuminating a larger, more dominating structure, as if revealing the outlines of a cave. The same could be said for Minerals, which begins with dripping water before moving into a style that resembles ambient jungle without ever copying it.
For with dubstep there is little in the way of true ambience and much more of a sense of foreboding, the feeling of something lurking just around the corner. It’s this tension that Rose taps in to through Triangulation, with things threatening to get a bit nasty in the darkness, and this keeps the tension running through even the most sparse of textures. Occasionally this is relaxed, as in the cold soul of Before or the soft dub at the start of Lights Out, but it can be far more animated, as in the edgy syncopated rhythm that comes to dominate the furtive Tracers, or Lights Out again, as it moves into its second phase.
Where Rose is doubly clever is in his talent of making less into more. On Deck, when taken apart, is little more than a note, a chord and a rhythm, but it creates an atmosphere all of its own as a metallic mid-range riff muscles its way in, has a look round, and runs out again. Similarly Glance takes a stately chord progression and a straight break beat and runs with them, creating a real sense of perspective as it does so.
The boundaries between drum ‘n’ bass and dubstep may be blurring somewhat, but this is a record that shows the value of stripping the music back to its barest elements without removing the emotion or the panorama. In doing so, Scuba shows how much potential he and his fellow producers have yet to exploit. If the second albums from The Bug, Benga or Caspa are this good, we’ll be in for a treat.