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Portrait With Firewood (R&S Records)

I’d heard some tracks here and there from UK producer Felix Manuel, I was
completely unprepared for just how good this album is. Portrait With
could easily go full-tilt cheese with some of its R&B-tinged
vocals and lush piano flourishes, but instead it all manages to tie
together in a varied and immersive way, showing off Manuel’s chops as
both a beatmaker and as a pianist. “Waters Rising” is perhaps the
best and soonest embodiment of this on the album, with washed out
guest vocals by Lola Empire over a fidgety rhythm section and
gorgeous piano runs and details to complement. But in some cases,
Djrum’s nods to the dancefloor are more subtle: “Creature, Pt. 1”
focuses on a lonely cello, somber piano, and occasional, massive low
end drops, while “Sparrow” again features vocals over a lush,
cinematic spread of sound. Ending the album is “Blood In My Mouth,”
featuring snippets of spoken vocals and reverberated strings,
glockenspiel, and piano. There is at least one complete curveball in
the form of “Showreel, Pt. 3,” whose furious and fast kick feels
more like a nod to gabba than current bass music. (The preceding
“Showreels” can be found on R&S EPs that preceded the album,
and they give this one a little more context.)

Portrait With Firewood by Djrum

Portrait With Firewood
is generally at its best somewhere in the middle of all of that, like
the crunchy, writhing beats of “Creature, Pt. 2” or the spacious
gloom of “Sex” over its insistent rhythmic tones. The clear
winner for me is “Blue Violet,” over eight minutes of intricate
beatmaking and reverberated pads and melodic phrases, sitting right
in the center of the album as its heart. The entire album manages to
split the difference between syncopated club clatter and a much more
emotive, human touch, whether in the form of dense atmosphere, airy
vocals, or refined, delicate piano. Highly recommended.

Buy it: Bandcamp