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33 RPM

[Distinctive; 2013]

By ; April 2, 2013 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

Ilian Walker has never dealt in subtly. The man behind breakbeat moniker iLs peddles garish, mid 90’s techno-indebted beats and synth-riddled dance music. And it is as compulsively enjoyable as it is slathered with low frequency oscillations and backbreaking tempo changes—think The Dust Brothers mixed with The Chemical Brothers, with a bit of old-school Lionrock thrown in for good measure. And though it does share some similarities mainstream dubstep, Walker never lets the music fall into any discernible routine for any perceptible amount of time and rarely allows for casual sub-genre characterizations. The music on 33 RPM comes fast, and it comes loud and it hammers you over the head with its own sense of importance, though in this context, that’s less a liability and more a signature of the genre within which he’s working.

Walker further fleshes out his bombastic approach to music with the addition of singer Jewels Lindt and fellow beatmaker DJ Rich. And while he has worked with various DJ’s and singers over the years, in recent interviews Walker has made mention of the fact that he wanted to create a more cohesive musical statement with this record, and so Lindt and DJ Rich are featured in some way on practically all of the tracks on 33 RPM. In particular, the album really seems to buck any easy categorization when Walker steps back and allows Lindt’s voice to guide the music as opposed to the music directing her. This is especially true on the throbbing, dropped tempo of “Dark Skies,” where Lindt guides the listener through burned-out cities and deserted dance floors before fading back into the scorched synth-laden landscape.

Other tracks like the dub-influenced drop-out “Come Together” and pop rave of “Changes” are oddly curious in that they seem to be looking back at the influences that led to their own creation while also utilizing a kind of futurist pop aesthetic. It’s a curious juxtaposition of old and new techniques, very similar to how Massive Attack melded chest-thumping beats with dance rhythms on their 1999 album Mezzanine—though Walker is more likely to soundtrack the detailed events of some hedonistic night out rather than the calm morning after. He infuses the somewhat dated Occupy Wall Street speech and crowd samples on “Occupy” with a fervor bordering on fanaticism and makes what could have been a bland, perfunctory track into something resembling an anthem for the disenfranchised. He turns the roar of the crowd into just another musical sound to be manipulated and layered. “Still Crazy” begins as just another typical bass and percussion heavy dance song but seems to dissolve and rebuild repeatedly before the listener, allowing Walker the time to show what makes him so good at vivisecting sounds and beats.

But the album isn’t without its missteps, relatively minor though they may be. “ Firefay” and “No Regrets” are perfectly serviceable, though slightly verbose, dance tracks that display a varied sense of construction but never seem to rise to the challenge of the first half of the record. The momentum that sustains the album seems to falter a bit when it hits the backside and the album finishes somewhat weaker than it begins. To their credit though, “Kingdom By the Sea,” with its gently plucked guitar intro, and “Invisible War” manage to sustain, at least within their own run-times, that sense of continual motion that the first half of the record developed. The album closes with “Tick Tock,” a menacingly rhythmic track that gives no relief from the darkly colored bursts of synths and thunderous beats of the previous hour of music, and it’s a perfect way to close out such a densely constructed and determinedly extroverted album.

33 RPM isn’t about the simple things. Walker, Lindt, and DJ Rich have concocted an almost prog-y tribute to bass and breakbeat music. The precision with which Walker breaks down each track to is basic elements and seems to rebuild them while recording presents a fascinating view of an artist in constant evolution.  And while the album may be all domineering synths and jackhammer beats, and may approach the music with all the delicacy of a bull in a china shop, Walker never once loses sight of what he’s doing–each piece fitting exactly where it should, all seams erased and borders blurred. It may be a throwback to the balls-out beats of the mid-90’s but 33 RPM manages to impress and succeed despite its retina-burning strobe light subtly. Of course, that never did seem to be something that Walker has ever really worried about.


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