Earl Grey: Headwinds
Inperspective Records

It's fitting that Earl Grey's Headwinds should appear on Inperspective Records, a label that for two decades has been pushing the boundaries of experimental drum'n'bass and jungle, as the Manchester-based producer's debut vinyl set for the label sees him doing much the same during its fourteen cuts. Rather than offer standard riffs on established genre tropes, Grey consistently extends his material into adventurous new realms without wholly severing it from its drum'n'bass and jungle foundations.

The opener “Burnt Cinnamon” offers a good illustration of the album's character. Though a familiar signifier such as that oft-heard cartoonish yelp surfaces, it does so alongside a percussion-heavy base and, most surprisingly, a mellow, jazz-tinged trumpet solo. Multi-tracked live drumming animates “Corridor of Uncertainty” with breakbeats-driven fever, though again Grey offsets the cut's drum'n'bass leanings with dreamy textures and horn riffs redolent of jazz. On a project so themed, the idea of wedding harp and tinkling percussion to booming breakbeats (as happens during “Kilonewton Compass”) begins to seem like the most natural thing in the world.

Bolstering the project's experimental dimension, Grey intersperses five interlude-styled tracks in amongst the lengthier productions. These vignettes grant him blank canvases for explorative blends of field recordings, voice samples, and synth textures. Not all are beatless, however, as shown by “Skit 3 (Fear)” with its loping hip-hop groove and the Pastorius-tinged moodpiece “Skit 4 (Hometime).”

Grey's definitely interested in extending his music into bold territory, but he's also more than capable of serving up a complex jungle or drum'n'bass pattern when the need arises. The intricate slip'n'slide animating “Dega and Papi,” “Biro Ink,” “Suspend Disbelief,” and “Banzai Dub” dazzles with the best of ‘em, and even though other elements are integral to their arrangements the cuts' primary focus is clearly breaks. Particularly head-turning is “Rain,” which explodes midway through in a furious torrent; classic drum'n'bass it might be, but it's powerful nonetheless.

August 2017