Neu Balance Rubber Sole

[1080p; 2015]

Styles: house, ambient
Others: 1080p, Mood Hut, Going Good

Music writers are always looking for crutches. It’s why most reviews are cleverly organized clusters of comparisons and references, usually designed to help the reader triangulate a release within some preexisting constellation of words and, therefore, sound. It makes sense. I mean, why try to reinvent the wheel for each review when you could just say “x sounds like y and z,” throw some adjectives that have been buzzing around press releases and other sites, and get the same thing across? Indeed, I’m not even saying this to set up this review as some insane riposte to such practices, because I’m a lazy bum myself. What I simply would like to ask is what are we to do with a label like 1080p?

Since emerging in the middle of 2013, the Vancouver-based label has released more than 40 cassettes of wonky, stoned electronics (nearly all of which I’ll personally assure you are absolute fire). With a recent RA feature and spots in like literally every “best labels of 2014” list (including our own), it seems as if the label could reach the rather curious point that L.I.E.S., Sex Tags, and Opal Tapes have also unfortunately experienced. Watching the writing around these impossibly prolific labels over time has offered a glimpse into how transparent the hype machine can be. First, it’s all incredulity and excitement at one institution for churning out so much good music, then it’s “yep, it sounds like L.I.E.S.,” and then it’s nothing (referring here specifically to Juno Plus’ top label lists). It’s not like Ron Morelli’s skills as a curator for L.I.E.S. got any worse in the past 12 months; it’s just that writers got tired of rehashing his label’s set of references. Why bring this up here? Because I don’t think 1080p deserves the same treatment. Because saying “yep, it sounds like 1080p” doesn’t even begin to capture my triple-digit play count of LNRDCROY’s “I Met You on BC Ferries” or how Temple Volant’s Daydream Drawings got me through finals week. Because, regardless of scene or context, Neu Balance’s Rubber Sole is really quite good.

The duo, made up of Sam Beatch and Sebastian Davidson, has been part of Vancouver’s live house scene for almost three years now, and it definitely shows. Despite being their first release, Rubber Sole has the measured approach that comes from producers who know a thing or two about their craft, even as it trades in off-kilter, fucked-up psychedelia. “Second Helpings” opens proceedings with a bubbly and gurgling percussive melody like a gentle come up, before “Better off alone” cuts in and begins the trip proper with its slow jacking groove. Immediately more somber, it’s full of the moody, ethereal pads that characterize much of the album, combined with nearly soulless pitchshifted vocal fragments of the sort that Giant Claw has mastered. There’s a very strange, uncanny effect produced by their layering of sounds with varying fidelities and textures, a specifically digital take on the druggy-and-fuggy sounds that have been coming from the Canadian Riviera as of late. In a recent interview with Scopitone, they explain their approach as an integration of “texture and fidelity in their specificity of character.” That is to say, while much of their sampled source material is lo-fi or processed by analogue machines, the end result gets its character from the computerized melding and sequencing of those sounds.

The rest of the album sees the duo fully map out the possibilities of its approach, flitting between the pleasant ambient diversions of tracks like “Sheffie” or “future goner” and the more explicitly club-oriented claustrophobia of “Guu Yuu.” “Restate” is particularly enjoyable, since we get to see it in both modes. The original plugs what I swear is a sample of the PS2 startup sound into naps’ woozy ambiance, while the “Dance Edit” quivers and wobbles its way onto to the floor. There’s also definitely something to be said of the sonic similarities to the ever-rising Mood Hut collective. Personal favorite “bb” could be a secret weapon in any House of Doors set with its rubbery bassline and shimmering textures, while “May B. So” feels like a time-lapse photo of the glacial tones on display in Jack Jutson’s Mother Official tapes.

Maybe there’s just something in the water up in Vancouver, but Rubber Sole is easily one of the best full-length distillations of the city’s sound yet. While it won’t be revelatory to those familiar with the scene or the sound, it’s the kind of release that makes 1080p feel genuinely essential. So yes, this is yet another 3.5 for 1080p, but no, this is not just another 1080p album.

Links: Neu Balance - 1080p

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