Slackk Backwards Light EP

[R&S; 2015]

Styles: instrumental grime, sino-grime
Others: Rabit, Samename, Kode9, Jammer

Slackk’s Backwards Light EP harbors the unshakeable sino-grime sound of yesteryear and mobilizes it, bringing it successfully into the current by combining it with a raving orchestration that fits well with its R&S home. It’s a similar model to some of his previous work — the track “Three Kingdoms” from last year’s debut full-length Palm Tree Fire offered a comparable Eastern motif. But while that almost boarded on banality, Backwards Light is sharper and arguably more original. It’s difficult, by and large, to divorce Slackk’s music from a grime context. Indeed, Slackk — a.k.a. Paul Lynch — is regarded as invaluable to the genre, having previously ran the radio-rip resource Slackk’s re-imagining of grime, however, gives a dynamism that is lacking somewhat in the boxy square-waves and established rhythm patterns that are otherwise commonplace.

Singularly, sino-grime entered public consciousness by way of a 2005 minimix from Kode9. While not widely accepted as a categorical term, Kode9 used it to group and identify what he perceived as a dominant trend across grime productions at the time. Namely, he referred to the use of Asian — particularly Chinese — instrumentation and tones. More recently, the sound — or idea of it, at least — has emerged in and around Fatima Al Qadiri’s Aziatisch, and notable tracks from producers such as Samename. The latter’s “Okishima Island” and “Mishima Curse,” for example, are clearly informed by this notion of an “imagined China” that Al Qadiri touches upon — not so much learned by China itself, more of an impression afforded through kung fu movies and video games.

Backwards Light is of the same ilk, but it’s softer, perhaps more delicately composed and less abrasive than those mentioned. It certainly has an elegance and moderate expressionism, common attributes amidst a highly generalized conception of “sino.” Like a knife, though, Slackk infuses a pointed rave aesthetic without undermining the poise. Opening track “Bells” illustrates this with an airy spaciousness and a considered, harmonic bell pattern, enriched by modulated, otherworldly synths. It’s not until “Monument,” however, when the sino motif becomes explicit, with very present Eastern instrumentation. Here, it’s complemented by saw-wave bass, dark strings, sporadic shouts and hand claps. It’s a theme that continues to the end; title track “Backwards Light” comprises a more stated sino loop, this time supported by gentle square-waves and off-kilter percussion.

Aside from the consequential sound palette, there’s a strong emphasis on melodic value with its nomadic tones. It calls to mind the similarly attentive instrumental grime on Rabit’s Baptizm EP from earlier this year, and it was also present on Palm Tree Fire. Personal favorite “Posrednik” stands apart as the most deviant offering, with its irregular rhythm, reversed percussion, and raving, acidic adaptation. While it seems the most laboratorial track, it beckons an unchartered territory that I can’t help but want to hear more of elsewhere. On the whole, Backwards Light is a maturing advance from the character of Slackk’s previous work, and if you can balance the weighted sino quilt, there are even more stimulating internal goings-on.

Links: Slackk - R&S

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