Thursday, May 2, 2013

Album Review: The Upbeats - Primitive Technique

Album Rating: B+
Let's be honest here: did anyone expect anything different from Primitive Technique? The Upbeats are techstep veterans hand-picked by genre titan Noisia to represent their somewhat new label Vision Recordings. Primitive Technique comes after a few brutal slices of techstep madness were released from the album earlier as singles, and the album has been described as "impeccable drum & bass." So, essentially, the album, from the day of its conception to the day of its release, has been a brutal, incredibly well-produced techstep release through and through. And, as much as I'd like to say that it's filled to the brim with an incredibly varied sound, the omnipresent neuro and techy wobbles here belie the album's true style. Not that this lack of variety is bad, of course - the release is one of the more solid DnB releases of the year. It just feels like when a listener puts down his headphones after the 64-minute runtime, he's bound to say, "That was exactly what I was expecting."

This viewpoint short-changes the quality of the release a bit, though. The whole thing is immaculately produced, with absolutely massive kicks and basslines as well as snares as tight as they come. The Upbeats have clearly been in the DnB scene for quite some time, and Primitive Technique sees the duo in the zone. Whether it's the ominous growls scattered carefully between the womps and bangs of "Beyond Reality" or the fine-tuned rimshots on "Alone," it's clear the New Zealand duo put in countless hours perfecting every aspect of the production. Plus, what we have here is some seriously excellent techstep, sure to destroy dancefloors around the globe. From the rolling drums of "Diffused" to the insanely heavy wobbles of "One Step," the whole thing hits hard from start to finish.

Going a little bit more in-depth about "One Step" for a moment, it's clear The Upbeats know how to make techstep. The variegated styles of wubs and snarly synths smack of the aforementioned Noisia, and the album is definitely on par with Split The Atom at its best. However, it's the lack of variety and serious experimentation which is the most frustrating thing about Primitive Technique, what separates it from Noisia's modern DnB classic. Though it's true The Upbeats don't fall into the same trap Enei did with Machines by stepping slightly out of their comfort zone (and it's a better album because of it), there's something to be said about an album entirely made out of BPMs around 175. Barring two or three songs, all non-interlude tracks take the duo's neuro/techy sound and don't do much with it except put it over a standard techstep feel (notable exceptions being the jungle-tinged "Thrasher" and its excellent machine-like walls of sound and the chilled-out "Alone," which to be honest is a little underwhelming - despite the excellent drum sounds the piece feels a little too restrained, and the vocals aren't really that great either). There's little experimentation here except for the numerous interlude tracks, which are (surprisingly) some of the best songs on the album. I'd love to see what the duo could do with the schizophrenic, half-time feel of Drum Stop or the almost Linkin Park-styled anthem of "Again I" on a five- or six-minute tune instead of a two-minute one, but unfortunately that's not going to happen here.

I feel like I'm being excessively harsh on Primitive Technique because I expected so much more. Sure, it's a solid album with a fair number of absolute bangers, and it's one of the better DnB releases of the year. However, the whole thing feels just a bit too safe and comfortable for such a talented group as The Upbeats. Then again, maybe I shouldn't have expected anything else. Though I wanted something more than the immaculately produced release chock-full of techstep bangers and not much else, it seems as though it's about par for the course for a group to play it safe nowadays. And while the interludes were tantalizing tastes of what could have been, it seems as though they were more geared towards breaking up the flow of straight neurofunk and techstep rather than being songs all on their own. At the end of the day, this is not a bad album. Unfortunately, it's just a little disappointing from a group with as much talent as this one.


1. Beyond Reality
2. Drum Stop (feat. Armanni Reign)
3. Diffused
4. Again I (feat. Armanni Reign)
5. Monogram
6. One Step
7. Thrasher (feat. Trei)
8. Interval
9. Falling Into Place
10. Alone (feat. Tasha Baxter)
11. Castles
12. Tangerine (feat. Dose)
13. Retrograde
14. Undertaker

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