Even after the pupil-dilating trance of 2011's hit single "Adrenalin" and the cellar-dweller techno he's produced as SCB the last couple years, there's probably going to be a moment on your first listen through Scuba's third album, Personality, where you wonder if he's taking the piss. After all, Berlin-by-Londoner Paul Rose has been one of the foremost dubstep producers in the scene since at least his debut album of '08, A Mutual Antipathy. If 2010's excellent Triangulation found Rose detailing ambient swoons and brief blurts of steely techno into one of the genre's most coherent albums to date, he was ostensibly still working within the iron-shackled blare of dubstep traditionalism.
But, increasingly, through selections for his stalwart label Hotflush and last year's entry in the DJ-Kicks series, Rose began to massage the sonic limitations and increasingly stale bombast of the genre, even as artists like George Fitzgerald, Pariah and Joy O were increasingly infusing it with humid, floor-hot house tones. Even with this straining against these confinements, most probably weren't prepared for Personality's teaser single, "The Hope." A blend of '90s big beat and testosterone-house, the track bruises through a brawny spoken word refrain, almost a taunt, of classic drugs-n-dancing hedonism before giving out to stinging trance-inflected synths.
And while "The Hope" isn't representative of the other ten tracks on Personality, that's only because no single stylistic template dominates. Instead, Personality is Rose's ode to myriad microcosms of dance music's past. If there's a solitary string threaded through its floor-pitched delirium—and make no mistake, this is the man's most dance-friendly entry to date—it is Rose's Hotflush-patented use of dazed, hyper-clipped vocal samples. The gorgeous "Tulips" and "July" are summer-ready, lover's music glides, and likewise, though bulkier and a bit more muscular, there's enough silky glow in both "Underbelly" and "Cognitive Dissonance" that they might trade for lush deep house if their dub-clank and sub-bass were a little more refined. Elsewhere, with its tubby beat and ringing synth tones, "Action" looks fondly back at '90s sweat-heap techno, and the piano part on the beautiful throwback house of "NE1BUTU" almost sounds like Rose is remixing the theme from an American TV drama of the '80s. (This is a good thing, by the way.)
When you've spent enough time with Personality, there's a sense that all of this recreational nostalgia leaves it sometimes feeling more like a collection of songs than a singularly-minded and cohesive album. In the hands of many other producers, this probably wouldn't be nearly as apparent. But Triangulation was one of dubstep's most fluid and expertly sequenced full-lengths; with its sly withdrawals and removals leavening its metallic pushes and peaks, it almost sounded like a smoothly-rounded mix more than an album of one artist's work. When an album's brimming with as many standalones as this one, this may seem like kind of a ridiculous quibble. But Personality still sometimes feels like Scuba's traded agile storytelling for separate, if still declarative, sentences.
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Tracklist: Scuba - Personality 01. Ignition Key
03. The Hope
04. Dsy Chin
07. Cognitive Dissonance
11. If U Want
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