The question of what’s going on at producer D-Bridge’s Exit Records has become a daily one for me. Since D-Bridge’s own 2008 debut, The Gemini Principal, as well as his forming of Autonomic with English duo, Instra:mental, both Exit Records and Autonomic, along with their constituents, have spun off from UK bass into a vivid, fully-realized (and downright exciting) realm of their own, still tied to drum & bass leanings, but just as readily described as “ambient.” It’s a contrast that manifests itself into varying levels of d’n’b momentum and atmospheric contentment, but on his Exit Records debut, From The Known, Dan HabarNam has taken the sound’s philosophical underpinnings to its extremes, blurring the lines between d’n’b and ambient until the distinction becomes irrelevant, creating a visionary full-length and something wholly HabarNam’s own.
From The Known is easily comparable to another Exit Records/Autonomic acolyte, Consequence, and his most recent work, Test Dream (at least as far as blending prolonged ambient sensibilities with understated d’n’b programming). But structurally, From The Known is much more complex and less willing to compromise drums and arrangement for familiarity. HabarNam’s approach is long-form and album-spanning, resulting in a jaw dropping three-dimensional, spherical beat making style more readily genre-ized as techno. But even then, it’s hard not call From The Known anything other than an ambient record. It reminds me a little of ambient techno producer, Jesse Somfay – another master of giving beats a more textural place to work.
Tonally, HabarNam likes his dystopian, Blade Runner-esqe synthesizers and gooey, rain-soaked melodies. From The Known is a surprisingly immediate and beautiful affair for an album with such an abstracted beat style. HabarNam doesn’t let his tracks linger, moving through each with a sure-handed earnestness and coating every second with rippling percussion intricacies and woven tendrils of neon-colored synths. A lot here stands at odds with what we’ve come to expect from bass music in 2012 – the flourishes of analog synth wizardry, the computerized, Rastor Noton-esque production undertones, the general breadth of the record – but a lot here hints at it as well. “The Known” could be a dubstep track with its neon gothic synth growls and inward-facing sample slivers, yet under closer inspection some unlikely details start to appear: the sucking, warped snares that sound like rewound puffs of smoke or the out-of-nowhere electric piano chords or the feint mechanical hisses near the track’s bottom.
Mostly though, HabarNam works in a world of his own. From The Known is just so incredibly rich with activity, detail, and seamless structural shifts. The programming doesn’t really adhere to any sort of foundational grid. Beats simply pulse in from some unseen nether region, rarely locking into any sort of driving rhythm. Tracks like “Divided” and “Memory” build into chunky Autonomic-esque d’n’b patterns for about a minute, synths unraveling, and then subside again. Still, the track’s aren’t built around the drums, instead deriving their momentum from a riverbed of production detail and emotional resonance. In other words, you aren’t simply waiting around for beats to kick in. Instead, they feel like just another emotional, tonal, and textural waypoint. On “Memory,” for example, after the beat crescendoes, the synths unfurl in a gorgeously layered reveal of heightened, emotional turmoil.
But tracks like “That Image” and “Betray The Present” are the real masterworks of beat-oriented ambiance, serpentine, mechanical synth melodies hanging onto submerged kick pulsations and echoes of woodblock snare. “That Image” finally blows up into a riveting, time stretched pattern with outer-atmosphere kick and reverberating snare punctuating a flurry of lofty synth activity like the overlapping sweep of light from an atomic-colored skyline. “Betray The Present” follows some rhythmic minor-key guitar plucks and a shiftless kick pattern before both drop out to let some hardened synths burst into the album’s most gorgeous moment. It’s made even better by the way “Betray The Present” shifts into the magnificent and hypnotic 4/4 driven “Becomes.” The whole record works as one thing. It’s confident and affecting, and despite its allegiances to a like-minded stable of artists in Exit Records, it sounds like nothing else.