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Taking a gamble on an unknown entity from another continent is a bold move for a record label, particularly in a scene as tight knit and community oriented as instrumental grime’s current incarnation, where productions are vetted week in, week out across an ever-growing collection of radio shows and podcasts. Coyote Records has always had a knack for the unexpected however, releasing EPs from producers far beyond grime’s London core, and zeroing in on a cold, electronic style formatted for the club but emotional enough for the long walk back from the night out. It’s an ideal context for Letta’s Testimony, the label’s first proper album and a record that balances emotional nuance and physical power in equal amounts.
Based out of Los Angeles, much has been made of Letta’s backstory, a major outlier in electronic music where everyone’s a nerd until proven otherwise. Given Testimony’s tendency to alternate between frigid synth melodies and flashes of emotional warmth, it’s hard to ignore this personal history, but Testimony stands up as a record even without prior-knowledge of its author.
Opener “Cascades” sets the tone with rumbling sub bass, twinkling melodies and percussion that straddles the line between empty space and percussive blasts. Like other Coyote releases, it neither commits to the disorienting weightlessness of the Gobstopper and Different Circles camps, nor does it fully engage with grime’s outwardly aggressive side, finding a balance between the two extremes. It’s a style well suited for the album format: at a brief 29 minutes (plus remixes), there’s no extended DJ intros or breakdowns to ruin the mood and there’s enough ideas on display so you never get bored. There’s a particular emphasis on pitch shifted R&B vocals, something I’m usually not enamored with but that contributes to the overall mood here, rather than feeling like a crutch.
Testimony stands on the shoulders of giants: it’s hard to imagine the album without Burial or Wiley leading the way, and there’s an obvious debt to contemporary albums by Mr. Mitch and Logos, but Letta’s talented enough to makes the musical ideas in Testimony his own. The percussion is punchier than Mitch and Logos’ sparse excursions, and in a scene that can sometimes get too clinical or conceptual, there’s a lot of honest to god emotion here. Perfectly timed for the fall, it’s as strong an introduction as a new artist can hope for, and with a London Boiler Room appearance under his belt last week, I wouldn’t be surprised if we started seeing Letta’s name popping up in grime sets, geographical origins be damned.