Anything Hyperdub releases is going to be worth noting; they’re the label responsible for the rise of Burial and Zomby, the latter of whom went on to make one of 2011’s under-appreciated albums, Dedication. DVA has spent much of the last few years doing regular DJ stints on Rinse FM, hosting Hyperdub’s own radio show. Now he’s ready to move away from playing other people’s records in favour of bigging up his own. The resulting debut album, Pretty Ugly, is a mixture of instrumental pieces and tracks with vocalists, Vikter Duplaix, Muhsinah and Natalie Maddix amongst them.
Reach The Sun kicks things off with buzzes of electronic feedback setting the scene for a tribal rhythm to take over and set the album on its course. Just Vybe features Fatima on the mic; her vocals are more than a match for the throbbing bass and, by comparison, the other vocalists don’t stand much of chance. Madness is loud and busy with a bouncy synthesiser melody, but the crooning, soulful vocals of Duplaix are overshadowed by it. The title track, sung by Cornelia, is too lightweight and ineffective, as is Fire Fly, ably performed by Zaki Ibrahim.
Why You Do? is seemingly it’s about singer A.L. finding out about a lover having an affair,; an unexpected topic for a fast-tempo dance track to cover. But the lyrics are so banal as to be distracting. Really, when dancing, who really wants to know that there’s a “dirty thong on the stairs”?
Away from all of this, the instrumental cuts are solid, if unspectacular, and manage to build up a steady momentum. The dancehall-style rhythm of Polyphonic Dreams, albeit glitchier, is constant throughout as arpeggios and other noises fizzle in and out of the mix. The Big Five is more satisfying; synths race away at the start before giving way to the main bulk of the tune. Every beat drop is preceded by a moment of excited anticipation on the part of the listener and is more than likely to go down well in clubs of a particular ilk.
There’s nothing terribly wrong with Pretty Ugly, though it works best less as an album than a 45-minute DJ set. But it’s a perfectly fine one, with some good moments, and it certainly sounds ‘of the moment’. It’s not a patch on SBTRKT‘s excellent debut LP from last year, mind – and, taken in its entirety, it doesn’t offer enough variety or dynamics to warrant repeat listens.