Album Review: Scuba – Personality

[Hotflush; 2012]

The opening challenge to Scuba’s Personality is hard to ignore. A down-pitched voice with a rough London accent seems to shrug and sniff before intoning, “We’re all unique…or are we?” like a boxing coach waxing poetic to a pupil about the true spirit of the fight. It sets the bar pretty garshdarn high for London-to-Berlin transplant, Paul Rose aka Scuba. While it’s the type of stakes the Hotflush label-head has been comfortable tackling before, it also raises a few questions regarding Scuba’s body of work. What really sets Rose apart? Being the head of a label responsible for seminal UK bass groups like Mount Kimbie, Sepalcure, and Joy Orbison casts a certain light on Scuba’s genre allegiances, but even his weightless, utopian debut, Mutual Antipathy, had more in common with Basic Channel than his grime-covered counterparts.

Scuba doesn’t really have a clearly-identifiable textural pallet that neatly ties all of his work together, but he’s remained consistently subversive. Even when London did start to creep in and darken his music in a big way on 2009’s fantastic Aesaunic EP, brokering a confluence with both Detroit and Berlin, there remained an identifiable presence working beneath the surface. Scuba’s personality, while seemingly abstracted and allusive, has always been palpable enough to exceed the individual parts of his work. Scuba’s pallet is beside the point; no matter what you throw at Rose he’s going to make it his own. So if anyone can get away with such a brazen political statement as titling their third record ‘Personality’, it’s Scuba.

It is difficult to approach Personality without the taste of Scuba’s masterful, grit-covered 2010 sophomore record still on your tongue. Triangulation made such a vivid impression. Rose populated his Deepchord sense of atmosphere with such a visceral, house-infected handle on 2-step and the post-Untrue sound that when the record was over it felt as if you had just opened your eyes from a dream of a dance party by yourself in an abandoned subway station. Personality doesn’t have such a vibrant sense of place, but it’s apparent Scuba is interested in taking his dance-leaning sensibilities to their logical (and emotional) extreme.

On Personality, Rose’s familiar golden-era house and techno undertones instead get shoved into the spotlight and the appearance of playful 80s disco funk is a welcome addition to Scuba’s normal self-seriousness. The vinyl textures, field recordings and dub propulsions found on most of Scuba’s work are still all intact. Rose does right by the album sleeve, which depicts a hand reaching out for the sun hanging content from a seaweed colored sky. The comparative weightlessness is a striking change coming off Triangulation‘s constant subterranean pressure. Bruised dubstep snyths are assigned a place less visible, replaced with impatient textures that perilously tangle themselves in golden, flaring spirals around the mantle-heavy rhythms. Syncopated vocal samples are used almost percussively instead of as hooks or melodic centerpieces. At its exterior, it’s a much different record for Scuba, but the producer’s fingerprints are still very much apparent.

Almost all of Personality feels as if it’s in careless flight. Outer-atmosphere synth arpeggios underline most tracks and they give the record a breathless, breakneck pace. Tracks like “The Hope” with its tumble-dry drum loop or “Gekko” with its motorik 4/4 manage that same visceral, parasitic intensity that made Triangulation so danceable. But even with the pointedly terrestrial percussion or full-bodied bass grooves, Personality is translucent and nebulous. It’s less a fault of any notion of intangibility. Personality‘s particulars simply pulse with such a dizzying frenzy that they form a sort of collage of combative and emotive color. It’s honestly a difficult mixture to find inroads into. The record’s standout, drum & bass burner, “Cognitive Disonance,” only obtains its lofty perch amongst its ten piers by letting its beautiful, misty synths stand at such heightened odds with its ravenous drum loops.

It’s obvious that on Personality Scuba is interested in creating a pure and sophisticated dance record. And he does that. But while Personality is worthy of praise for its feverous energy and detailed, hot-iron arrangements, there isn’t a lot to make the album really stick. It simply lacks memorable hooks or revelatory moments and outside of its production tact it doesn’t do quite enough to distinguish itself between tracks. Whereas it was difficult to pull yourself away from Triangulation‘s sooty atmosphere even after the record had concluded, Personality whizzes by and it’s hard to remember exactly what it felt like when you were listening.