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Various Artists - Molten Mirrors Music Album Reviews

Various Artists - Molten Mirrors Music Album Reviews
Livity Sound displays past and present iterations of its elliptical sound on this anniversary compilation, a low-key affair that serves as a testament to the focus and consistency of the Bristol label’s approach to dance music.

Bristol’s Livity Sound was founded in 2011, a year in which it was not at all clear where UK dance music might go next. The last big upstart style, dubstep, was almost a decade old, and long since old hat. Yet nothing had come along to replace it. The predominant sound, known simply as “bass music,” drew from three decades of dance music, amorphously amalgamating bits of dubstep, grime, garage, drum’n’bass, jungle, IDM, techno, and house. Sometimes, the friction from all this recombinant activity threw off exciting sparks, but the pull of retro was getting stronger; electronic music’s habitual forward march was turning recursive, a MIDI cable in the shape of an Ouroboros. By turns fertile, uncertain, and aesthetically conservative, club culture stewed in an amoebic interzone.

Livity co-founders Peverelist, Kowton, and Asusu had all been active in Bristol for a few years, and they stepped into this gulf without any grand designs. “It was one record at a time, just some friends doing music,” Peverelist told DJ Mag. “The plan was to have no plan, just see how things developed.” But the label quickly developed a signature sensibility, if not exactly a clearly delineated sound. Early Livity releases, along with those on sister label Dnuos Ytivil, shared certain hallmarks: charcoal streaks of sub-bass; staccato tones and syncopated rhythms; textures of desiccated wood and dented metal. Above all, Livity records emphasized the space of the mix, arranging glinting drum hits against a black velvet backdrop of silence.

All those hallmarks are still in play on Molten Mirrors, a compilation marking the label’s 10th anniversary. In typical Livity fashion, it’s a low-key affair; there are no big statements or overt themes, and while many of the label’s longtime affiliates are present—Hodge, Forest Drive West, Simo Cell—a number of artists here have only a single prior release for the imprint under their belts. But the compilation shows how focused Livity’s approach has remained over the past decade, even as the label has broadened its horizons beyond the broken techno and post-dubstep of its early years.

All 18 songs could be classified as dance music, loosely speaking, though some tracks have a more tenuous relationship to club conventions than others. Azu Tiwaline’s “Nissa,” which opens the album, boasts a low end as substantial as the heaviest dubstep, but instead of percussive force, the French-Tunisian producer opts for porous, almost powdery sound design; her swirls of brushed cymbals, iron qraqebs, and triplet toms move like dust devils through the desert. Forest Drive West has long been known for his minimalist take on UK techno, but his track here forsakes straight-ahead beats in favor of an implied 4/4 pulse; by leaving a hole where the kick drum should be, the rest of the percussive elements seem to float several feet off the ground. Other tracks throw weight into the drums while simultaneously leaning on the brakes: London producer Kouslin’s “Racket” dips into swaggering, industrial-strength dancehall, while Lebanese Australian producer DJ Plead’s wildly inventive “Glebe!” flips tightly rolling snare and tom samples into a seasick fusion of fast and slow, like a speedball of caffeine and Dramamine.

The standard account of the label’s development often describes a brightening of the palette that accompanied the arrival of Tess Redburn as art director, back around the label’s fourth year, when black-and-white designs gave way to Redburn’s whimsical, richly hued abstract imagery. I’m not sure you can hear much of that color in the compilation; most of these tracks are largely monochromatic, with little in the way of melodic hooks or even hummable basslines. The big, floor-filling tracks here—the brooding techno of Batu’s “Melts Into Air,” the lumbering UK funky of Bakongo’s “Ashy”—are drums-first affairs; they lavish most of their energy on carefully carved hits and keenly balanced frequencies. (The shimmering, Detroit-inspired chords of Facta’s lush “FM Gamma” and Hodge’s even more vibrant “Do What You Need to Do” are welcome exceptions.) Even garage producer Al Wootton skips that genre’s customarily bubbly riffs on “Sancode,” a sullen callback to the dubby 2-step of ’00s acts like Horsepower Productions.

But despite the consistency of its palette, Molten Mirrors ably demonstrates the ways that Livity continues to push forward, carving out space for music that doesn’t abide by stylistic formula. Arraying ominous bass throbs and unexpected doorbell chimes around a lurching hi-hat pattern, Simo Cell’s “El Gato Loco” is a master class in stoking tension: Bar by bar, it builds, morphs, and falls away again, teasing clubbers with a climax that never comes. Bruce’s ominous, otherworldly “Just Getting on With It” takes a similar approach, pouring its percussion into a bobbing current that feels perpetually on the verge of overflowing its banks, yet never does. (The track’s mix of voluminous bass and skittish Latin rhythms sounds exactly like what I wish Ricardo Villalobos was making these days.) Ido Plumes is responsible for another of the record’s most captivating selections: “Albeit,” a dusty riot of lawn sprinklers, broken radios, and whirly tubes. Slotted in penultimate place here, it’s a testament to the thought put into Molten Mirrors as a listening experience. And coming from one of the label’s relative newcomers, it’s also a testament to the health of Livity Sound’s vision: Ten years in, a new generation seems ready to put a fresh spin on the label’s elliptical, impossible-to-pin-down sound.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Various Artists - Molten Mirrors Music Album Reviews Various Artists - Molten Mirrors Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Monday, October 11, 2021 Rating: 5

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