Pessimist Pessimist

[Blackest Ever Black; 2017]

Styles: drum & bass, techno
Others: Regis, Christoph De Babalon

Rather than push drum & bass forward, Pessimist crosses it like a bridge to somewhere else. A half decade of singles culminated in the Bristol producer’s first for Blackest Ever Black, April’s “Through the Fog” b/w “Peter Hitchens,” both of whose sides reappear in the final act of his self-titled debut album for the label. Positioned just before the gentle, faraway keys of its denouement, “Through the Fog” is almost a grand finale, the most traditional, break-driven club piece on offer, even in its punctuation by an unclear, dissonant ringing. Another highlight, “Peter Hitchens” constructs a climax with shades of acid and, when the low end pulls back just over halfway, one of the quietest and most dynamic moments of the record. While they’re both good examples of what makes Pessimist a good drum & bass artist, neither track expresses the dark and encompassing tone of the album, which sees his eyes oriented forward into a transmutative fog that threatens to mangle the genre beyond recognition.

One way of putting it is that Pessimist is jungle decelerated, its tense bass rumble slowed to a crawl and its sputtering percussive release reintegrated within a dubby, muted techno vocabulary. Another equally suitable way would be to say that its murky palette is already that of techno and that jungle’s interjections have to do with a particular way of compositionally sorting tension and release. The reality is somewhere in between, as the record situates itself on the threshold between the edges of those simple genre domains, casting its light on their overlap. On the strictly d&b side of things, one could invoke Christoph De Bablon in describing the juxtaposition of distorted peaks in a drum-forward mix with elongated throbs of crackling, low ambience. The movement from “War Cry,” heard as if from the bottom of a deep canyon below the crier, to “Peter Hitchens” proceeds along these lines, for example, and a nervous, tactile resonance, as in metal, is never far from the constant crackling of vinyl. On the other hand, many of the record’s most impactful moments are better appraised as techno, pulling expressive power away from the duo of breakbeat flurry and bass rumble and investing it into a more subtle, creeping totality.

From Regis to Raspberry Bulbs and Cut Hands to Carla Del Forno, little ties the Blackest Ever Black catalog together aesthetically except for stimulating, twisted takes on old ways of effecting “darkness.” In that regard, even where it can be called referential, Pessimist stands out for the straightforwardness, honesty, and craft of its atmospheric flourish. Further, more than a simple exercise in revivalism, it succeeds in replicating a trademark darkness in tone that is almost always lost in contemporary attempts to update drum & bass. Even when a classic sampled break joins “Glued,” a collaboration with Loop Faction, after a two-minute study in pads, the track is still dominated by reverb and the continued interruption of a detuned, resonant bass note. In the key turning point of another collaboration, “No Matter What” with Overlook, an uneasy ricketing of hats and punchy kicks releases to the sound of a distant storm, letting muffled claps of thunder form counter-rhythms with the drums. Vinyl crackling appears pervasively, but never at quite the same level or frequency, and modulated such that it and silence become subtle textural instruments. While rich in tone and character, these tracks are also relatively functional dance floor materials, absorbing in themselves and closed to accusation of pastiche or superfluous affinity with a time past. No stranger to the 12-inch single, Pessimist’s songs have only ever been heard in twos; when laid out like this, they can start to seem formulaic and homogeneous. Still, in the cohesion of its foray beneath the surface of readymade moodiness, his debut more than gets the job done.

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