They might only release an album or two a year, but Metalheadz have done it again…
Following the likes of SCAR’s Orkyd Project, Dom & Roland’s Last Refuge Of A Scoundrel and Goldie’s The Journey Man comes another bold document that at once captures the essence of bedrock drum & bass and pushes it into brave new places: Blocks & Escher’s Something Blue.
This stamp of thoroughbred drum & bass authenticity is evident from the very first sax flurry on opener Vigil right through to the last tubular metallic break shatter and outer planetary pad of finale Something Borrowed, Something Blue. From their detailed drum choppage on lung-hugging hurters like Your Ghost and Sea to the more introspective soul squeezers such as Witch Hunt and Gulls, the attention to detail, measured dynamic and pace is almost tangible… And worth the four years of hype, hearsay and almost total release silence since Goldie first announced the London duo were working on an album in 2013.
Four years is a long time, especially in a genre that evolves and shapeshifts as frequently as drum & bass. For Blocks & Escher, however, time is happy to stand still. Just as it has for their evergreen trips of the past such as 2011’s Shadow Play on Digital Soundboy or 2014’s beguiling space stepper Calla.
“We’ve never changed our sounds,” says Blocks. “We like what we like. Proper drums, real bass. We’re not into overproduced crazy-assed tech reeses and stuff like that. We’ve been inspired by the music we love. That’s what we do with our Narratives imprint and that’s what we do writing music. Over those three years nothing changed in that sense. Just things got slower output wise.”
But things are about to pick up. The duo reveal that they’ve already got a small collection of fresh cuts and new Narratives releases are imminent. Even the delayed suspension has paid off; Something Blue is a rare album that genuinely has been highly anticipated by peers and fans alike. The fact it lives up to expectation and does so over a short and punchy 11 tracks makes it even more of a rarity.
“Every tune on there should be on there. There’s nothing extra,” explains Escher. “I look at albums I love like Endtroducing and they’re all pretty short 10 track bodies of work. There’s always a danger of filler on new albums and things get lost in the flow. Keep things to the essentials like the old albums did was a really important aspect of this for us.”
“An album has to be a statement,” agrees Blocks. “We’re old school in that mentality. We came from that golden era and we knew we couldn’t do a massive 18 track album. Of course it would have been more profitable to do more tracks and get more 99ps coming in but we wanted something proper and from the heart.”
Proper and from the heart. Like these three albums that have inspired, informed and soundtracked some incredibly personal times for Blocks and Escher as they continue to fine tune their unique timeless approach to both capturing the essence and pushing it forward…
DJ Shadow – Endtroducing (Mo Wax, 1996)
This album had to be in here as one of our favourites of all time. In terms of music it is a masterpiece. But furthermore, it flows as an album; the contrast in tones and the use of samples just made it a huge eye opener for us at the time and an inspiration still now. From those opening keys of Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt this is a rollercoaster of emotion, sample manipulation and drum work. There are very few albums that have ever come close.
Blocks: For me at the time, I was immersed in golden age hip hop by my close group of friends at school. But there was something about what James Lavelle was doing with his Mo Wax label. Artists like Shadow, Blackalicious and Krush were taking that hip hop framework somewhere else, into the abstract; it just grabbed me. It was also one of the avenues that I started to hear of UK drum & bass artists as Mo Wax was often remixed by the likes of Dillinja and Photek etc.
Tracks like Stem/Long Stem, Changeling and of course Midnight In A Perfect World are simply majestic, haunting moods interjected with rugged drums. As we have said before, it is this form of contrast that we have always enjoyed and endeavoured to present in our music.
Escher: I was heavily into turntablism at the time this came out. I bought it thinking it would be like a scratch session mix and I remember being disappointed (after the first minute of scratching) when it turned out to be something completely different than I expected and what I was listening to at the time. But it’s grown to be one of my all time favourites. Intensely emotional and raw but still flows like water and has such a contemplative style. The use of samples is incredibly smooth and the drum so rough, its the perfect balance for me.
Grooverider presents Prototype Years (Prototype, 1997)
It’s so hard to pull out a drum & bass album for a short list like this as in our formative years there was a batch of true classics which crystallised our love for the genre and undoubtedly spurred us down the path we are on now. In 1996/97 it was the likes of Modus Operandi, V Classics, Platinum Breakz and Reprazent that were setting a new curve in the scene and were quite often on the record shop shelves at the same time. It was a true time of innovation and a real education for youngsters like us!
The album is a who’s who of drum & bass of the time. All with that Grooverider stamp of approval. To say the tracks are bonafide classics is a huge understatement. Boymerang, Optical, Dillinja and Lemon D on an album like this? Say no more.
Blocks: I remember going into record shops at the time and seeing that hologram cover of Prototype years on the CD shelf, I had never seen anything like it but more importantly, I was so blown away by the music (as I still am). It was so familiar from tape packs of the time and the radio. Of course, little did I know that a lot of it had been around for a while on dubplate and even earlier Prototype releases.
It was this futuristic fusion of ambient, jazz and sci fi tech all married together that just cried out to me. It brought together all these influences in a way I hadn’t heard before, connected the dots between the hip hop and live music I was listening to, the visions of artists like Orbital and the jungle/D&B I was hearing from DJs like Micky Finn, Hype etc on old rusty tapes! It really felt like this was my music!
Escher: This was one of those LPs that sent me off in a different direction. I was listening to D&B for a while anyway, but the mood, tone and inspiration that came from listening to this were something else and I started digging down into a different side of the genre after this. I would listen to Secrets and I couldn’t pin point why it sounded so good and that gave it this mysterious feel that I still hunt for. Every tune on it is amazing and it’s so rounded whilst having such wide range of energy and emotion. It’s never left the bag and is still my favourite D&B long player.
Radiohead – Moon Shaped Pool (XL, 2016)
There had to be something by Radiohead in this list as it’s fair to say they are the best band in the world today and arguably over the last two decades. It was hard to choose one but Moon Shaped Pool, their most recent, pipped the others to the post.
Blocks: There is rarely a week goes by without me listening to Radiohead. As well as being insanely accomplished musicians capable of writing incredible music, I’ve always been drawn to the chameleonic ability to keep changing their output and daring to move forward into new realms of sounds and methods.
This album feels very poignant as it was released at a very low time for me in 2016 when my mother was passing away. I would like to think that this album would have resonated with me regardless of my environment at the time but its needless to say that it does feel like a soundtrack or narrative of a particular time. I don’t mean it has negative connotations. In fact, while I obviously associate certain memories to it, I find the album incredibly uplifting or at the very least, hopeful.
Musically it feels like a departure from Radiohead’s previous album, maybe a return to earlier emotive song writing the band is known for but with a contrast of sonic experimentation. Most importantly, it feels like band member Jonny Greenwood has been given centre stage after the success of his film scoring and composition moonlighting; Jonny brings his orchestration of strings to the forefront and lays down a bed of lushness throughout the album. Strangely for me, it is these massive string compositions that make the album much more personal and intimate as it is in the moments when this blanket of emotion fades that it feels like the band are playing right in front of you. Beautiful stuff.