April 25, 2012

Son Raw isn’t trying to affiliate himself with no fake-ass A&Rs.

Where to begin? Weighing in at 144 minutes sans bonus tracks, LHF’s Keepers of the light can be a slight bit intimidating in a genre where releases are usually constrained to 2 track singles. Do you devour the whole thing in a blunt-aided marathon session? Throw it on your iPod and let it slowly infiltrate you consciousness on shuffle? Or skip around and find your favorites hidden in dark corners? All good ideas, all viable strategies I’ve explored, but whichever way you tackle this beast, you’ll almost certainly find yourself coming back: Keepers of the Light stands as one of the most exciting and singular electronic music releases of the year.

With hundreds of hours of mixes floating around the pirate radio ether over the course of the past half-decade, LHF are no newcomers yet they’ve taken an almost willfully obscurist approach to releasing music, preferring to linger in the shadows to be discovered by cognoscenti rather than join in EDM’s race towards “bigger, brasher and louder.” Like Dubstep pioneers DMZ, Burial and Shackleton, there’s a hyper-aware streak to their music as they deconstruct the UK Hardcore continuum and twist the pieces into new shapes, yet there’s something different about this crew: they don’t seem to be participating in the nuum so much as transforming it into pure content. The tracks on Keepers of the Light defy standard DJ functionality, dropping at odd moments or rolling out forever. The chaotic randomness works in the listener’s favor, resulting in an unpredictable album full of detours, side-roads and possibilities: this is challenging music not because it’s unpleasant but because it takes a while to unpack.

Let’s take a look at the perpetrators. Low Density Matter comes in for a quick one-two punch in the middle of the record only to vanish: “Questions” combines martial drum breaks to ethereal chords and a vocal sample questioning human perception of existence while “Blue Steel” draws for Kill Bill and Happy Mondays samples, crafting a dark roller out of pop-culture detritus. No Fixed Abode drops by for only four tracks but they’re all essential, highlighting a gritty, cratedigger’s sensibility in their use of prominent samples. He introduces both discs with crunchy, ambient intros but it’s his “Sunset (Mumbai Slum)” and “Indian Street Slang” tracks that steal the show thanks to prominent world music samples that imbue them with a sense of melody and melancholy seemingly pulled from the ether. Can we get a full release, Keysound?

Which leaves the bulk of the records in the hands of Amen Ra and Double Helix. The former trends towards the light, bathing his songs in synthesized and sampled washes of sound with the double whammy of “Simple Things” and “Low Maintenance” as the highlight. Landing somewhere between Aphex Twin’s broken vision of techno, UK Garage and Jungle’s rhythmic propulsion, Flying Lotus’ next-gen space jazz and ancient sea-shanties, these tracks are a thing of beauty. Double Helix meanwhile hides an entire 38 minute mini-album on the back of disc two, his tracks forming LHF’s darker, deeper undercurrent. He hews closest to the Dubstep form of darkness and space but draws freely from sampled earworms for his hooks, avoiding the crushing minimalism that’s defined the genre’s “serious” side since the kids went wobble. Tracks like “Rush”, “Inferno” and “Deep Life” are guaranteed bangers for the knowing DJ but it’s his 8 minute “Voyage” complete with a transcendent Lord of the Rings sample that truly seals the deal on an album with no easy answers but plenty of fascinating questions.

I’d be remiss not to mention some potential nitpicks: it IS too long and might have benefited from more judicious editing, particularly given that half of these tracks were previously released on EPs. Yet that would have gone against the spirit of things: this is a wild and wooly album that dares you to dive in headfirst. And if you don’t? – Your loss. I suspect LHF wouldn’t want to have you. Besides, there’s a lot more where this slice of 2006/2010 material came from with the crew apparently writing another two or three albums’ worth of material during the mixing process. So consider this an invitation: with a dense sprawling world of sound that could be equally appealing to Dubsteppers and Junglists, Low End Theorists and Beat Conducta fans or even electronically-averse psychedelic explorers, LHF has the potential for converts across the board. But they won’t make a grab for you – you’ll have to leap through the looking-glass yourself.

Download:
Mp3: LHF – Tandava
MP3: LHF – Infiltrations vol 6 (left click)

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