Why exactly it took Marcus Intalex twenty-one years to issue his debut album is anyone's guess (he began DJing in clubs in 1989 at the age of eighteen), but the collection nevertheless offers ample proof that he's a master of the drum'n'bass form. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the crisp beat patterns the Manchester producer (and founder of the labels Soul:R and Revolve:R) uses to power the album's twelve tracks, but Intalex, crafty innovator that he is, wisely opens things up by drawing upon a wide stylistic palette for the release.
Whatever resistance the non-drum'n'bass fan might have will be quickly laid to rest when the hard-hitting opener “Make A Raise” appears. The tune gets a boost from a nice vocal part by Ras Tweed, but it's primarily a brief shelter from the otherwise rough and raw beat storm that's the song's main selling point. A harder if slightly more minimal side emerges during the scalpel-sharp beatsmithing of “Hot Hands” (the first track Intalex created using Ableton Live after switching over from Logic), specifically the tight crack and wallop of its snares and kick drums. A hint of IDM surfaces in the melodic side of “Meltdown” (a collaboration with Calibre), but the beats are pure drum'n'bass. Illuminated as it is with radiant layers of gleaming synth patterns, “Celestial Navigation,” on the other hand, is about equal parts IDM and drum'n'bass. In the otherwise atmospheric “Dusk,” hints of Kraftwerk emerge in the tune's squiggly synthesizer motifs and electro-funk beat snap. The off-beat accents rolling through “Paulista” bring out the tune's dubby character, while the echoing snares and serpentine bass lines in “Wacky Races” evoke dub too, if in a totally different way. An old-school techno-house feel comes conspicuously to the fore during “TB Or Not TB?” when Intalex augments a stripped-down pulse with the gurgling stabs of a TB303 Emulator. Strong too is “Climbing Up the Walls,” an emotively rendered Radiohead cover featuring a vocal by DJ Danny Fierce (almost a ballad, in fact, even if a relatively heavy and high-volume one). “Regrets” takes things in a soulful direction thanks to the presence of Nonplus+ vocalist Riya, and rather than limping to a close, 21 ends with a strong downtempo cut, “Make Way,” this one featuring DRS and heartfelt lyrics (“All this'll make sense one day, but time's runnin' out and I'm still tryin' to make way”).
In place of a relentless stream of dark and heavy bangers, we're presented with multiple shades. As a result, 21 repeatedly demonstrates how pliable the drum'n'bass genre can be in the right hands, with Intalex's tracks referencing dub, IDM, and techno without betraying an allegiance to his home style.