Album Review: Pangaea – Pangaea EP

[Hessle Audio; 2010]

Pangaea EP was named the January 2010 Dubstep Record of the Month. Read the full Month in Dubstep column here.

Pangaea’s sound rolls on drums; these massive rhythmic engines that trample through his tracks like mechanoid creations. They’re very natural sounding but beefed up, powered by vast reservoirs of bass. When the percussion in these tracks takes off all you can hear is drums in the deep. For his first EP on Hessle Audio (following his white label single “Memories,” one of the hottest-burning underground tracks of 2009), he assembles a stunning collection of disparate tracks that all trade in one thing: space. This is not minimalist dubstep, but it’s something like microhouse or minimal techno aesthetics applied to dubstep, where the silence is just as important as the sound that disrupts it. There are house, techno and even rave influences here, all filtered through the Pangaea aesthetic. It’s a triumphant release, the culmination of all the potential he’s displayed in the past few years and an exhilarating experiment in genre destruction. These tracks are so different (and individually strong) that he could have easily had three really good 12s out of this — but he was generous enough to give them to us all at once.

Opener “Why” is a moody meditation over a sea of incredibly deep bass, and sounds a bit like Burial trying his hand at house — the vocals are at once alienating, unnatural sounding, and undeniably catchy. While the strong vocals put it in debt to house music, it moves in an unstoppable rhythmic flex that draws from garage and drum’n’bass more than classic dubstep. It’s an incredibly strong opener, but “Sunset Yellow” is even more impressive, restlessly cycling through varying tempos. When that initial, restless percussion is swept away a minute in by those tunnelling bass hits, it feels like the track is opening up and swallowing you whole. The organ drones that come in only serve to push it deeper, bubbling melodies and diva vocals feel seem to float miles above as the rest of the track sinks deeper into the chasm carved by the unholy bass. And as it slowly shifts into this claustrophic, nightmare rave, the effect is jaw-dropping. “5-htp” is comparable to one of Shackleton’s darkest rhythmic excursions on his stellar Three EPs release on Perlon last year. It feels like walking through a haunted club, spooky piano and enormous bass drops jostling you as you blindly feel your way through. The flashes of melody that do shine through the murk are choppy and atonal, mere scraps torn apart by these serpentine, subterranean riffs.

The second half of the EP is less intense, but no less brilliant. “Neurons” incorporates artificially slowed-down drum samples into a high tempo: a disorienting effect that swirls around the manipulated, unsteady spoken word sample. It’s like an ambivalent acid trip, not too frightening, not euphoric, just weird. “Dead Living” turns in slow narcotic circles, again reminiscent of Shackleton’s recent work; it rides on a shuffling, insistent rhythm with shadowy pads and muted horns lurking in the background, their melodies bending slowly out of tune. Closing track “Because of You” slows things down for a late-night cemetery stroll, with ominous rumbling, creeping basslines and lost-soul vocals echoing on the breeze. The beat drops into the middle of ambient hiss, the wind rustling the autumn leaves. When it stops, it’s abrupt; a shock. There’s no climax, no payoff, no gratitude. Pangaea just strands you in the middle of a graveyard in the pitch black night, wondering if all of this really happened and where you’re supposed to go next. It’s a truly amazing EP and makes for an incredible start to 2010.