Gang Colours: In Your Gut Like A Knife
VA: Brownswood Electr*c 2
Designed to be a snapshot of current sound system culture, Brownswood Electr*c 2 serves up a second helping of what one might call electronic future-soul, the future aspect evidenced by the innovation of the producers involved and the soul exemplified in an emotive dimension reminiscent of deep house, a key difference being that rather than over-the-top emotional expression, the new material generally opts for understatement. The release originates out of Gilles Peterson's Brownswood collective—his assistant Alex Stevenson, specifically—which issued its first installment in mid-2010 in an attempt to capture the label's kaledescopic range.
The sophomore effort collects the work of fourteen producers scattered around the globe (UK, US, Germany, Australia, Japan) yet all sharing a kindred appetite for next-level production. Call-and-response chants abound on Ta-Ku's (Perth, Australian beatmaker Reggie Mathews) bleep-funk opener “Hey Kids,” a jubilant entrée spiked with heavy bounce and radiant synth sparkle that nicely sets the mood for the thirteen tracks that follow. Many of the tracks are straight-up fabulous: “Shifts” from Anenon (LA resident and Non Projects label founder Brian Allen Simon) unspools in a blinding flurry of beat snap and synth wizardry, while Monky's “Drunkerdz” sparkles as blissfully in its entrancing blend of synthetic sunshowers and slinky rhythmning. A peak moment arrives with “By My Side,” wherein Brighton-based Jack Dixon creates a high-powered bridge connecting house and two-step. Soulful vocal accents ricochet atop a charging groove that seems to grow ever more euphoric as the tune unfolds. Though repeatedly spritzed with bright synth arpeggios, DJ Dials' “Pillowforts” nevertheless comes across as a tune so melancholy (there's even a brief, mid-song church organ-styled break) it could be called heartbreaking (lo and behold, it turns out to be, by its creator's own description, a “lamentation about a girl”).
An interesting side-note of the collection is the degree to which some producers thread elements of dub, jungle, and drum'n'bass into their productions. Frederic Robinson's “Mood Swings” augments a stirring female vocal part with a heady drum'n'bass beat pattern that repeatedly twists itself into new shapes and re-invents the genre in some small way in the process. One of the most mesmerizing tracks is a sensual stunner from Manchester duo Synkro & Indigo called “Knowing You,” which showers a gurgling dub bass line with soulful vocal samples and fractured beat swing. Dub also sneaks its way into Jus Wan's (San Francisco-based Justin Shields) “Miles Away” in the form of a deliciously slithering bass pulse, though it's offset by atmospheric accompaniment and the restrained clatter of a jungle-styled beat pattern. Not everything hits it out of the park—though presumably it's the effect intended by DJG, his “Automatic” feels a tad too robotic and stiff in the context of this breezy collection—but the batting average for the compilation remains exceptionally high.
As if the stellar Brownswood Electr*c 2 collection weren't enough, the label offers up another release that's as strong, namely the debut EP from one Will Ozanne under the Gang Colours moniker. Drawing upon dubstep, garage, and R & B, the twenty-three-year-old conjures a highly personalized take on dreamy electronic soul in four brief cuts. “Village & City” awakens to twinkly synth radiance and luscious chords before beats and bass sneak in amidst carousels of psychedelic sound, gradually anchoring the tune with a teetering, off-kilter groove and undulating vocal snippets. The dreamy “Fireworks In Pocket” glides with an insistent yet graceful stealth, its bleepy melodies, funk pulse, and neon flares coupled with a smooth, Robert Owens-styled vocal and fireflies that fall from the skies in slow-motion. Unspooling like some dubstep lullaby, “In Your Gut Like A Knife” insinuates itself into one's being not with the violent thrust of the track title but with a velvety touch in the form of a sensual vocal line, stuttering snares, and glimmering melodies that seem to melt upon arrival. Ozanne's headphones-friendly bounce sounds fresh in the best sense of the word, even if there's only sixteen minutes of it to go on.