Album Review: Vessel – Order Of Noise

[Tri Angle; 2012]

Vessel was a producer in the midst of the grind last year. A constant presence in the Bristol dance scene and one-fifth of the active Young Echo Collective with like-minded producers Kahn, Jabu, El Kid and Ishan Sound, Seb Gainsborough released his debut EP, Nylon Sunset, on Left_Blank, which made enough of a splash to get the attention of New York-based left-field electronic imprint, Tri Angle. According to Gainsborough, he hadn’t even considered a full-length until Tri Angle labelhead Robin Carolan approached him specifically about producing one.

Vessel dropped off the world and spent six months producing Order of Noise. “The process of writing the record was difficult,” the Englishman said in a recent interview. “It involved a lot of self-examination, selfishness and frustration. There was no context or design to what I was doing beyond spending every day making these tracks, so the whole six months felt like an accelerated moment.” Order Of Noise sounds like that. It sounds like the work of a producer trapped in his own head, in a constant creative space, poking and prodding at not only genre expectations but at his own conceptions and biases as well. The result is a naturally subversive, vaguely techno-ish record that’s in a constant state of flux and exploration.

Order of Noise is restless and malcontented. It’s hard to call it a wholly melodic record. It grounds itself in the low end with cartilage-thick percussion, slogging, ovular basslines and hissing machine textures before gently layering on fleeting, gemstone samples and shuddering reflective-pool synths like lights peaking through the gaps between a door and its frame. Its steelier surfaces and rougher edges make more of an impression than its softer and more delicate ones, but by the end of a track like “Silten” it’s hard not to notice its knuckled, rocky core has been consumed by a gorgeous swath of synths like a shroud of cool cotton sheets around sweaty skin. The intro is a red-herring with its stretch of gorgeous up-pitched vocals treading on territory more familiar to Vessel’s Tri Angle labelmate, Holy Other. And tracks like “2 Moon Dub” and “Plane Curves” sound like a Tri Angle-esque take on English dub. Order Of Noise hardly veers toward the tribal density of someone like Jam City, but Vessel is still more interested in sinew and bone rather than blood and skin.

The record is more of a structural curiosity. Half the time it seems like Gainsborough is playing the long-con while the other half, he’d rather make a few course changes in the moment. It creates a calm, cyclonical interior of monochromatic colors and crosshatched sticks-and-stones textures while Vessel plays sophisticated add and subtract games. “Images of Bodies” sets a sluggish 110 BPM pace, bouncing along a plump dubstep wobble, its spiral-stairs snare drums clattering vertically before joystick synths and distant lost-in-the-wilderness vocal chants wander in to hang out for a bit, stopping at a few different tonal waypoints, before moving on again. “Scarletta” is a stream of percussion, darkened synths notes blossoming and fading, threatening to overrun the track before they recede. And standout “Court of Lions” starts with an air-whoosh loop reminiscent of Shed’s “Boose-Sweap” before disparate pieces of percussion start running into each other and a siren drone wafts in, the track sliding toward Demdike Stare territory. A dancefloor arpeggio shifts things entirely, drum loops fighting each other off as the song rises and falls and rises again for a screeching climax.

It feels like Vessel is working with a vertical mindset in a horizontal world, an approach that keeps the listener forever off-balance. There are hints at familiar dance aesthetics that aren’t so much turned on their head, but are rather understood by their creator differently and employed with a sensibility that seems bent on challenging the producer’s own expectations rather than everyone else’s. Order Of Noise is one of the most worthwhile genre-defying oddities of the year.