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earinfluxion

15 December 2017

DMX
Krew: Strange Directions (Hypercolour)

Ed
Upton’s been marching to the beat of his own sequencer for
well over 20 years now, with over 20 full-length albums and at least
twice as many singles and EPs; even within just the last four years
he’s released seven albums and eight EPs! Because Upton creates his
music primarily with vintage gear, it’s usually equal parts nostalgia
and timelessness, his talents as an arranger and creator usually
shining through a familiar but varying mix of sounds. Whether he’s
throwing down freestyle-tinged jams or deeper, more minimal electro,
DMX Krew is synonymous with quality control and reliability. Many of
Upton’s releases lately have appeared on his own Breakin’ label,
but Strange Directions is his second for the esteemed UK techno and
house label Hypercolour. Regardless of label, Upton’s aesthetic is
consistent and uncompromising and uniquely his, even as he draws so
much on the sonic palette of his array of hardware. Indeed, if you
told me that “Nice Portal” was a vault track from 1980, I’d
believe you — and in the case of DMX Krew, it enhances its appeal.
That sort of timelessness is just a part of DMX Krew’s magic, of
course. It helps that he has such an easy instinct that flows through
his albums. The opening detuned phrases of “Snowy Blue”,
especially when combined with the suggestive album name, tip their
hat toward this being one of DMX Krew’s less pop or goofy dance
albums, veering instead into deeper electro and spacious
arrangements. But it turns out that Strange Directions splits the
difference between those different facets of Upton’s repertoire, and
the push and pull between more infectious melodic tracks and deeper,
more minimal and patient excursions makes for a dynamic listen. “You
Talk 2 Much,” for instance, has a vocoder refrain that’s a pleasant
surprise; I’d assumed it might be an entirely instrumental album.
Its mid-tempo, tinny groove throws back to late 80s and early 90s
tracks while its vocal feels less cheeky and more urgent.

Strange Directions by DMX Krew

Indeed,
much of Strange Directions has a slight shadow cast over it, an air
of malaise or mystique. That is most evident when finally reaching
the title track which closes the album, wherein he eschews drums
altogether and it hums and moans in time as a spooky outro. This
apparently was enough of a tone-setter for Upton that he named the
album after it, and putting it at the end of the album feels contrary
to my intuition (I might have led with it, to set the tone). But
there’s something clever about it as the punctuation of the album
rather than a loud dropcap, so to speak. Even more melodic tracks
like “Home Made Drum Machine” share this slightly more dour
quality which resonates more in the spaces between than its
infectious and simple melodic patterns. Rarely does the music take on
the bite of a relatively recent EP like The Wiggly Worm or RAM
Expansion
, although “Odd Chill” and “Strode Downe”
incorporate crunchier, more distorted rhythm sections that nod to
vintage Rephlex records without straying far from the album’s tone. Of its more straightforward dancefloor flirtations, my
favorite is like “Grimsthorpe,” whose percolating synth patterns
and light melody hold stride atop a steady kick. I suppose part of
why I don’t post more about DMX Krew’s myriad releases is not that I
don’t love his work, because that much is certainly true about most
of it. However, it can be difficult to describe what are often
nuanced or even minimal distinctions between one album and the next,
despite such a high and consistent level of quality control. Fans of
Upton’s catalogue will not be disappointed, and in fact in its
willingness to explore the more shadowy side of melodic IDM and
electro, Strange Directions is one of the more solid entries in his
already impressive arsenal. For those unfamiliar with DMX Krew, this
is a solid entry point, but really almost any of his releases is a
contender.

Buy it: Hypercolour Bandcamp

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