Dextro: Winded
16k Records

Pair hip-hop-inflected beats with dreamy synthetic atmospheres and what have you got? Well, in this case, it's not Boards of Canada but rather Dextro (Ewan Mackenzie), whose Winded sometimes sounds a little bit like the work of the Warp duo. It's impossible not to think of the group, for example, when the opening track's middle section surrounds its beats with swells of synthetic atmosphere, or during the bucolic intro which opens “Momentary”; for that matter, the downtempo organ-and-beats blur of “Distance” won't discourage comparisons either. No fool he, Mackenzie's smart enough to know he must personalize his music in order to distance his music from such comparisons; certainly one way to shake off those pesky BoC comparisons is to amp up one's music with a shoegaze roar, which is exactly what Dextro does in a few of the album's nine tracks. “Pacifist,” for instance, opens as a stately, piano-driven waltz episode joined by loose, jazzy drumming but Mackenzie then fleshes out the track with sheets of guitar and bass until a shoegaze dynamic takes hold. Similarly bold, “Closer” follows a dramatic intro of synth swells and a rather Oriental-sounding piano melody with the punch of live drumming (the album's robust, live feel is also a distinguishing characteristic).

Serenading IDM and post-rock also take their turns in the spotlight: aggressive beats and stabbing electric guitars land “Ilm” in post-rock territory, while “The Unknown” lulls the listener with a peaceful interval of acoustic guitar, background synth atmosphere, and wordless vocals. If “Ring Cycle” isn't all that Wagnerian, it's at least transporting in the twang of its electric guitars and overall wide-screen ambiance, and transporting too is “Sanna,” a post-rock-and-hip-hop fusion of ringing guitars and snappy beats. The album's a bit old-fashioned in its straight-laced sincerity and IDM leanings—but not in a bad way. Mackenzie's an earnest fellow by the sound of it and more power to him for being so, as Winded comes across as lovingly-crafted. Kudos too to 16k records for sparing no expense on presentation grounds, as a deluxe photo booklet is included as a fitting complement to the beachside digi-pack photography.

July 2009