Chiptune sounds in dance music aren't anything close to a novelty anymore, but the UK's Slugabed has always used tinny 8-bit timbres with a fierce and unique thrust. Gregory Feldwick's early work, like "Skyfire," minced hip-hop and dubstep and shot out geysers of crumpled-aluminum melody in the process. Something seemed to change when he signed to Ninja Tune—those crinkles in the armour were smoothed out and the melodies became gentler, less spastic. After two good-but-not-great EPs for the label Feldwick emerges from a sea of rewired Nintendo consoles with his debut album Time Team, which sees him adjusting to his new home in confident and hungry fashion.
Time Team trades in Slugabed's old jagged edges for bleeding edges: the album has a consistent flow that's internalized in its synths themselves, which wax and wane rather than poke and prod. Combined with the trap-rap-trappings of cascading snares, it's a little bit nostalgic and a little bit science fiction, wisely avoiding the microwave-soggy retro-futurism of so many of his peers. Lead single "Sex" owes a lot more to classic funk and jazz than hip-hop, and it cruises forward with a carefree ease through a minefield of imploding synths. The way they tend to envelop the tracks lends Time Team an unexpected grandiose atmosphere, pomp and circumstance rendered in antiquated hum and buzz. It works on the proggy "Mountains Come Out of the Sky"—which folds in the swirling organs and vocals of Yes' "Roundabout" into his own jittery computer concoction—but it's less convincing on "All This Time" and "Travel Sweets," where the more assertive elements are at odds with the soft blankets of atmospherics.
When it's not weaving winding symphonies or crunchy polyester boom-bap ("Moonbeam Rider"), Time Team exhibits a softer, more thoughtful side of Slugabed. The long-limbed jazz melodies of "Grandma Paints Nice" perfectly mimic the factory-line freedom of cheesy pastoral themes from old '90s RPG games, an orchestra of imaginary players wielding SNES emulators. It's all very nice and well-executed, but it begs the question, what exactly is Time Team trying to be? Its banging moments are the best of Feldwick's career, but the album's dips into gentler territory are confusing drains on the momentum, lazy Sunday afternoon beat music for nerdy kids with oversized headphones. Even its missteps are endearing, though, and although his sound has changed, his grasp of video game sounds and ideas is still as lovably bizarre as ever.
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Tracklist: Slugabed - Time Team 01. New Worlds
03. All This Time
04. Moonbeam Rider
05. Travel Sweets
06. Unicorn Suplex
07. Dragon Drums
08. Mountains Come Out of the Sky
09. Grandma Paints Nice
10. Climbing a Tree
11. Earth Claps
12. It's When the Future Falls Plop on Your Head