Martin Clark (AKA Blackdown) really likes London. If the LDN catalogue prefix to his Keysound label wasn’t enough to clue you in, he’s spent the past several years putting out records that have sought to capture English urbanity in its purest form, be it Patois-inflected Grime, spaced out Dubstep or Carnival-ready Funky House. Last year’s 38 EP by Bass music trio L.V and poet Joshua Idehen was something else however: an abstract poetry-and-sound suite about Metropolitan bus routes that took this formerly unsaid notion into the realm of spoken word. For what it’s worth, it’s a fantastic little record and one very worthy of the full-length follow up Routes, which further explores London’s indigenous musical contributions and urban identity.
Wisely ignoring the temptation to drop an extended poetry reading on wax, Routes is first and foremost, a collection of music with L.V treating poet and collaborator Joshua Idehen’s voice as another sample in the mix, albeit a privileged one. Syllables are looped and triggered, texts are deconstructed and the focus is squarely on the variety of broken beats and warm textures that form Routes’ backbone. The role suits Idehen well, allowing him to slink in the background for most of the record while adding a crucial component that separates Routes from so many beat records flooding the market. When he does take center stage, most notably on subway-anthem Northern Line and 90s tribute Primary Colours, his vocals act as hooks anchoring the music rather than as extended rants. (The number 1 cause of bad poetry albums in case you were wondering.)
Musically, the record is an amalgamation of well-heeled House sounds broken percussion. While never quite as unhinged as the widest sounds emerging from London’s Funky scene, Routes doesn’t need to be given its clearly defined identity as headphone record for mass-transit commutes. Instead, the beats are supplemented by jazzy chords, hazy electronics and generally chill vibes: had Rawkus Records not kicked the bucket a decade ago, Routes would fit in perfectly with that label’s sophisticated vision of Afrocentricity and underground music. The devil’s advocate in me has to admit that things occasionally get a tad too staid for their own good – this is hardly Dizzee Rascal – but when a record succeeds at what it is, it seems unfair to criticize it for what it isn’t. Recommended for Londoners, anyone with a 40-minute bus ride and fans of Bass music looking for something a little softer and romantic for the summer months.
MP3: LV – Northern Line (128KBPS)