Album Review: Ikonika – Contact, Love, Want, Have

[Hyperdub; 2010]

London’s Ikonika is yet another impressive signing for Hyperdub, one in a line of bold, individual producers that they seem to churn out in some secret bass music laboratory. Her first single “Please” was released back in 2008, but Contact, Love, Want, Have marks her entry into the album arena. “Please” was an immediately arresting debut, its offbeat tones and detuned chords providing one of the hallmarks for the early ‘wonky’ movement. It was followed up by the deeply unstable “Millie” with its snaky melody and frothing bass crescendoes. She’s increasingly pursued a more explicitly melodic, synth-driven direction, melting her molten dubstep into UK funky without losing her ear for gorgeous melodies and that new, fluid sound is laid out brilliantly on her long-awaited debut album.

Hyperdub have been around for more than five years now, but album length releases on their roster remain a rare and auspicious event. This places Ikonika in impressive company — the family name is a lot to live up to. Yet the album flows beautifully, loosely structured around a videogame concept, from the intro subtitle of “Insert Coin” through to the final two tracks who play out as the “Final Boss Stage” and the “Good Ending.” In keeping with this theme, the album hinges on interlude “Continue?” that waltzes on dream-time synth pads before leading into a run of incredible new tracks that make the second half even stronger than the first. “Heston” is pure Funky inlaid with a typically loopy synth, while “Psoriasis” comes on all strutting and belligerent, with grimy neon synths riding a bubbly, ascending rhythm, yet it still finds time to unwind a swooning chorus melody. “Video Delays” revels in its dry, rhythmic austerity, teasing out fragments of sweet melody from within its churning automaton depths. If “Idiot” was sheer, unrestrained joy, then this track is its mature counterpart, hiding the joy deep within its folds.

Lead single “Idiot” is receiving most of the pre-release attention, and rightly so: it feels like the quintessential Ikonika track, rolling all her idiosyncrasies and specialties into one monster tune. An eight-bit synth carries the main melody, barely able to keep its head on straight with the notes tripping over each in pixellated flurries, while the clattering drums and prickly bassline play out almost independently. Everything merges into a loud, chaotic whole, and the title starts making sense as the track babbles to itself in about five different languages simultaneously. It’s the sort of gigantic outpouring of joy that anthems are made of, and it already feels like a classic.

Far from being all about the singles, the whole album is packed with highlights, introducing diversions that push out the edges of whatever the Ikonika template may be. Yet every track is a world of tiny details and skewed rhythms, unified by a similar sound palette and an ear for deeply appealing melodies. The experiments are startling: the almost-ambient “Yoshimitsu” beautifully blurs the line between synths and strings, the percussion barely noticeable beneath the silky layers of the artificial cocoon. On the opposite end of the spectrum, “They Are Losing The War” incorporates a driving, pseudo-militant electro riff, until a gorgeous chorus interrupts proceedings like a police chase spontaneously stopping for a psychedelic light show, only to resume again as if nothing happened.

Contact, Love, Want, Have climaxes with a pair of tracks that show off exactly how far Ikonika has come since those early levels. “Look (Final Boss Stage)” plays out as appropriately frantic, double-jumping through laser-beam synths and roiling percussion. It’s a perfect marriage of her chiptune soul and meticulously crafted cyborg beatsmithery. “Red Marker Pens (Good Ending)” closes the record on a sombre but hopeful note, picking out a delicate melody over a warm sea of synthesizer as the credits roll. The bass swells in one final crescendo and the drums play us out with a martial beat, but what you take away with you is the sweetness at its heart. It closes a triumphant, confident album that marks Ikonika as a true talent moving forward in leaps and bounds. All we really need now is a bonus stage.