Pioneering but not pretentious, experimental yet still eminently enjoyable, 'Man Vs Sofa' is a must-check
There's an unfortunate tendency in much bass music to be all about the bass, and not so much about the music. A proclivity to whack the bottom end up to 13 (11 is for wimps!) and say, "Okay yeah, that'll do."
If you're seeking reassurance that this album doesn't fall into that trap, you'll find it round about 27 seconds in, when the stuttering drums and ominous synth drones that open the album's first track, Roll Call, are augmented by some wukka-wukking geetar straight out of the car chase scene from an early 70s blaxploitation flick. It's an unexpected addition to the sound palette of such a sparse bassbin-troubler, and an early indicator that Man Vs Sofa is going to be something special; something altogether more finally crafted than yer average collection of trapstepEDMwork 'bangers'.
This, of course, should come as no surprise whatsoever. Adrian Sherwood is one of the great innovators in British music of the past 30-40 years, pioneering all manner of bass-heavy sounds through his legendary On-U Sound label, while Pinch has done more than most to popularise the sound of dubstep since its earliest days at FFWD; indeed, he's pretty much singlehandedly responsible for transforming his adopted hometown of Bristol into the sound's most important UK epicentre outside the capital. So Man Vs Sofa was always gonna be good: what's surprising is just how good it is.
Gleefully throwing genre constraints out window, Messrs Sherwood and Ellis embrace a wide range of tempos and sonic textures, the only constant being - naturally - lashings of bottom end. Yet the album's never experimental for experiment's sake: as we said at the start, the emphasis here is on music as much as it is on bass. On enjoyability and listenability, more than on arty, intellectual abstraction. If it's highlights you're after, then the mighty Lee 'Scratch' Perry lends his vocals to the Afro-dub-footwork-jazz sax (!) smorgasbord that is Lies, Midnight Mindset's constantly evolving rhythms will satisfy even the pickiest, most easily bored beats-fiend, while the ragga-vocaled Gun Law with its towerblock-destroying drops ends the album on a suitably apocalyptic note for these troubled times.
There are admittedly a couple of tracks that, to these ears, don't satisfy quite as much. The glitched-up cover of Sylvian & Sakamoto's Forbidden Colours - now renamed simply Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, after the movie from which it was taken - fails to entirely convince, while Retribution's drums are a little too fucked-up for personal preference. Nevertheless, taken as a whole, Man Vs Sofa can safely be filed under "triumph".
Words: Russell Deeks
Release date: 24 November
Review Score: 9