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It is always a pleasure to receive a new Alias record. 2011's Fever Dream seems like an age ago. A real highlight in Anticon's recent output, it brought the producer's horizons out of the basement and into the club. Pitch Black Prism is another step forward, albeit one that requires additional layers of winter clothing.
Alias compares his newest work to three 'English' artists in particular, Aphex Twin, Burial and, ahem, Boards of Canada (he may want to be careful mentioning that in BOC's home town, Edinburgh). Something to do with the chilling, steely sky of the UK, and the never-ending greyness of our beloved islands. Thanks for that. But wait, we have summers too! Sometimes it cracks 20 degrees.
You can see what he is aiming at: Pitch Black Prism is cold. Not un-engaging or aloof, just unremittingly glacial. Siberian currents seem to skim across every track, wispy cloud formation vocals are corroded by the metallic shards of his synthesised drum patterns. It's like an early morning ferry journey out to the Northern isles. Laughter and forgetting are in short supply.
In place of joy we have lashings of doom. Track structures work in the same, meticulous way Alias tracks always do, with swirling, pinpoint hats and snares of brain melting complexity. Patterns are stacked up like the snow bricks in an igloo, poly-rhythms disjointedly chattering back and forth like icicles, rolling away deeper and deeper into the grotto-like mixes. In place of the Bay Area heat fog of Fever Dream bangers like Dahorses (I urge you, go and download it now) we get blocks of ice and perma-freeze. 'Amber Revisions' is representative of the whole, a fiercely hi-fi stomper created out of deceptively simple ingredients. Doseone unleashes some of his best rhymes in years on 'Crimson Across It'; but then he's never been one to inspire much warmth, other than in the sinews of grey matter. His voice actually seems to be morphing into Tom Waits.
The producer has taken the interesting tack of switching from a tried and tested MPC-based recording process to purely software construction. In truth, if he hadn't put it in the accompanying press bumf, I wouldn't have guessed. He has mastered the technique to the exact level of precision of his previous output. It isn't the tools that glare at you as different, it's the environment.
The title-track hints at footwork, something genuinely new for Alias. The kick-heavy drum patterns maintain much of the driving force, taking a lot of pace out of the beast, and letting much of the album pass at an insistent half-tempo. In the latter stages, fun makes a fleeting appearance.
If I'm being honest, I find the Alias of Fever Dream more fun to be around than that on display on Pitch Black Prism. The old bounce and verve is channelled, entirely intentionally, into a winter prison of mathy, clinical beat work. Right now, entering our blessed British summer time, I'm in the mood for something with a little jig. Give it four months and I'll be back in my welly boots.
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