Switched On – Instra:mental: Timelines (Nonplus Records)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

When Instra:mental started the Autonomic podcast series with like-minded producer dBridge, their mantra was ‘music first, drum & bass second’. The duo – Alex Green (aka Boddika) and Damon Kirkham – qualified this by saying at the time that their aim was not necessarily to make a drum & bass track, but to make music that was ‘emotionally charged, personally edifying and organic’. They proved this in their excellent contribution to the Fabric compilation series.

Timelines revisits the Autonomic series from their perspective, bringing together five of vinyl-only contributions with six previously unavailable archive tracks. Marking the fiftieth release on the Nonplus label, it is in effect their second album, eight and a half years after the excellent Resolution 653 in 2011.

What’s the music like?

With little reason to change a successful formula, Instra:mental continue to switch between brooding panoramic instrumentals and close-up, stripped back pieces of sharper sound and raw rhythm. Sakura and Pacific Heights fall resolutely into the former category, beautifully structured and weighted, and keeping a serene beauty until bolstered by the substantial rhythm sections. Tracks like Encke Gap, with its more explicit techno references, fall into the latter description.

The music will appeal to drum & bass listeners but it is actually more versatile than that, flexible enough to bring in lovers of deep house or even slower jams. This is because a lot of Instra:Mental’s music can be appreciated at either a fast or slow tempo. As they say in their commentary to the album, a lot of their tracks operate at a nippy 170bpm – but have rhythms inbuilt to cater for those who might prefer half the speed. This brings a curious tension to their music as well, found in the likes of the slower Deep Night, a nocturnal scene with a slight edge, or Photograph, a subtly reflective beauty. End Credits is even more delicately shaded, but again the tension this creates is exquisite.

Watching You is a superb example of their craft, a nocturnal, urban portrait, while Elsewhere has a 1980’s soundtrack edge to its main riff, an intriguing clash of modern with recent past that pans out nicely to a wider perspective around halfway through. Final track More Than is perhaps the pick, another piece of reflection but a beautifully voiced one.

Does it all work?

Largely, yes. Heard in a single LP the duo’s approach can seem a little singular at times, but if you’re listening on good headphones you will be able to fully appreciate the nuances of their rhythms and the ‘less is more’ approach that makes their music more pictorial. Better still, hear it on a dancefloor somewhere!

Is it recommended?

Yes – fans will not need any convincing and will certainly be pleased with the results of Timelines. It will be interesting to see where the duo go from here.

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