AxH: Destroy (Tempa)
Dubstep really has gotten a pretty bad rap in many of electronic music’s interconnected circles. Instead of perceiving it as an either/or, I tend to view most electronic music as a more inclusive “and” — and when it comes to exploring the deepest and most sublime sides of dubstep, few labels are as reliable in my book as East London’s Tempa. After all, Tempa was the label that introduced many of dubstep’s sounds to my ears in the first place, so it’s refreshing to hear them exploring quality sounds, even as they might be more familiar now than ever before. The intiial splash of newness has faded, but these are quality productions I think will stand the test of time. AxH hails from Boston, but his style fits neatly into Tempa’s aesthetic. “Destroy” kicks things off with style, a plodding, crisp, clean halfbeat and dubbed out delay and effects in the periphery. And even while AxH relies on some tried and true gestures of the genre — like the buzz alarm bass that sounds halfway through “Destroy,” as a prime example — it all works. Likewise, on “Giant Footprints,” its filtered bass zips and contrasting fast and slow percussive elements seem fairly familiar, but it’s an impeccably crafted excursion into the darkness and back. The selective use of vocal samples (in this case, a deadly serious “I walked with giants”) is right on — punctuating AxH’s sounds with a keen sense of timing that again feels as satisfying as it may be familiar. “I Feel Safe” softens the blow with a smooth, melancholy vocal.
The nicest thing about AxH’s sonic palette is that despite relying on some familiar dubstep tropes, there is a cleanness to his drum sounds that feels deep without feeling overly heavy-handed. That super thick, white noise-saturated snare that seems so unescapable in most self-proclaimed “dubstep” toolkits is absent, and instead the drumming on Destroy is full-bodied without being in your face, exuding a gravity without feeling self-consciously heavy. It’s tracks like these that remind me of the strengths of dubstep as a loose genre, hopefully shaking off some of the negative stigma attached to the name.