Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Album Review: Plastician - Start Select Reset

Album Rating: B
At this point in his career, Chris Reed pretty much has the artistic freedom to do whatever he wants. The 29-year-old English producer, known to the electronic world as Plastician, has been creating his special form of dubstep and grime since 2001, soon after the then-new fusion of dub and two-step had started to permeate London's underground music scene. Nowadays, he's one of the most widely known and respected producers in the bass music scene and has gained fame for consistently pushing out high-quality releases that nudge past the walls defining the standards for darker dubstep. Plastician has helped jump-start the careers of genre pioneers such as Skream and Benga during the early days of dubstep, and he's gained incredible fame during his 10-plus years active in the English electronic scene. Recently, Plastician has begun exercising the artistic freedom he's earned over years of top-notch production, and some of his later releases, like those of Skream and Benga themselves, have caused waves of criticism for trying to pull two distinct types of dubstep together. Skrillex's label OWSLA has released a few Plastician songs and remixes, and the mere thought that Plastician might be tainting his grimy sound through OWSLA has sent fans across the dubstep scene into worried frenzies. To their relief, the producer's OWSLA releases have been in similar veins to his earlier songs - bass-heavy and pure, they've shown that the seemingly irreconcilable dichotomy between brostep and darker dubstep might be crossable after all.

Plastician's latest release, Start Select Reset, is a return to form of sorts - he's releasing "pure" grime off of a "pure" label, and there's been no major change in sound on the EP. While this means it can't be truly innovational, Start Select Reset still manages to push the boundaries of dubstep just a bit, exactly like Plastician has been able to do in the past. It's unfortunate, then, that the EP gets off to a slow start. "Bad Like Us" is a bit too straightforward, with a driving, ravey synth lead thrown over a very standard breakbeat pattern. Doctor's rapping shoots a bit of life into the song, but it's too little to really make the tune stand out. Reed follows up with "Retro," which is essentially a minor rework of "Bad Like Us," with the same synth lines but a more interesting beat and no rap. It's frustrating that "Retro" is more of a modulation than a standalone track, because while it would have been a very strong opener with its deceptive drums and ravey feel, it just feels grating after a full four and a half minutes of a song that's only slightly different.

Thankfully,  Plastician saves the EP with tracks three through five. His take on more standard dubstep really serves the feel of Start Select Reset well, and those three songs demonstrate what's made him so famous over the course of his career. Plastician's drums are techy and syncopated, and his strict attention to detail is clear from the grimy snares to the ticks of the high hat. He also uses repetition to a startlingly effective degree, and manages to keep each song sounding fresh through the repeated use of nastily insistent synths. Well-placed strings lead into a twisted bassline over a twitchy beat on "Senate," one of the standout songs on the EP. It's four-bar repeated synth is changed up a bit throughout the song, and it stays interesting even with such a limited use of melody. "Elixir" sets up metallic drums with a grimy lead, and the uncomfortable bassline really fits the atmosphere of the song. "Pwned" has an almost trap-like boom-clap pattern with an almost 8-bit melody on top, and the paranoid themes of the song continue the discomfort on "Elixir" to its logical conclusion.

Regrettably, Reed takes a slight turn for the worse on the EP closer. The instrumental version of "Rebel Music" sounds like a mediocre new-school Dub Police-styled offering: melodic, nasally synths, straight dubstep beat and twinkly, twangy pads. It's not a terrible song, but its mediocrity is not helped by some very poppy vocals by Doctor (making a return appearance). The song as a whole sounds like a song you might hear on pop radio that's been twisted out of shape by Plastician, and while that's not a bad thing, it doesn't really fit in with the rest of the EP and is a poor choice as a closing track. On the whole, though, Start Select Reset, especially the three tracks in the middle, is a prime example of Plastician's sound and continues his solid slew of releases. It'll be interesting to see where Reed ends up taking his sound in the future, but for now this EP is a solid reimagining of the sounds of his past.


1. Bad Like Us (ft. Doctor)
2. Retro
3. Senate
4. Elixir
5. Pwned
6. Rebel Music (ft. Doctor)
7. Rebel Music (Instrumental)

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