Saturday, November 17, 2012

Album Review: Stumbleine - Spiderwebbed

Album Rating: B
It’s safe to say that after a series of increasingly dull EPs, the idea of a Stumbleine full-length wasn’t particularly exciting. Up to this point, there were many who’d begun to dismiss the style as a whole as stagnant: seemingly safe in the knowledge that there was nothing left for this sugary sweet, dubstep-inspired strain of downtempo. But in surprise to all and not least myself, it seems that Stumbleine has batted down all misconceptions. Spiderwebbed shines as a glimmer of hope for the genre, and the best thing Stumbleine’s ever produced.

To break down Stumbleine’s style into its core components, take ambient music as your starting point. Now make it a little poppier and melodic, be sure to ramp reverb and echo as far as they’ll go before laying on vocal samples, and finally reinforce it with light clicks and claps to a rough 2-step format. When done right, the music that comes out of this process has the rare and desirable quality of being simultaneously relaxing and catchy in a very ‘I want to listen to that loop for a week straight’ way.

Previously, Stumbleine ran into issues by filtering his tracks through a chill-out membrane so fine that there was often not much to hold onto at the end, but if Spiderwebbed shows anything it’s that he’s learned from his mistakes. Tracks still abide by a very tight set of rules, but enough rope is given for them to retain individual personalities: whether this be the confused, hurried rush of ‘Kaleidoscope’ or the more plodding and semi-lustful air of ‘If You.’ Such a stylised album cannot really escape some level of polarisation, but this is a change much closer to a slight fine-tuning than turning a completely new leaf, and hearing Stumbleine’s style finally click into place is immensely satisfying.

So more of a general improvement than any reinvention, then, but it’s still a sound that remains distinctively his. Any motive for sticking to his signature style is confirmed when noting that two of his collaborations (‘The Beat my Heart Skips’ and ‘Fall into You’) mark the more tattered points of Spiderwebbed, as well as the places where Stumbleine seems most at risk of falling into his old ways. It seems like he’s much more comfortable with exploring the style on his own, and as a result there’s plenty more to make up for these minor steps back. For example, ‘Cherry Blossom’ mixes smooth, fluid beats and synths with contrastingly jagged vocals to create a surprisingly punchy opener, and the initial hint that Stumbleine’s LP is a different beast to his old work.

With Spiderwebbed, Stumbeine has improved his style to the best it can possibly be. With only a couple of exceptions, tracks are tighter and more involving than ever, but an open question is raised about the future of Stumbleine’s solo work. With time-learned restraint and an aptitude built by five EP’s-worth of practice, he’s finally mastered a style; so what direction is he going to choose next?

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1. Cherry Blossom
2. If You
3. Capulet
4. The Beat My Heart Skips ft. CoMa
5. Honeycomb
6. Solar Flare
7. Fade Into You ft. Steffaloo
8. Kaleidoscope
9. The Corner Of Her Eye
10. Catherine Wheel ft. Birds of Passage

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