Since he redefined his musical persona with the Autonomic sound back in 2009, it seems like San Diego's ASC has been on a quest to prove he can do everything. Whether that's been running a label, performing a two-hour techno DJ set made entirely of his own material, releasing an ambient album or reviving his Mindspan alias, he did it all—except it seemed like he didn't make drum & bass anymore. While 2010's acclaimed Nothing Is Certain wasn't your average drum & bass record, it was mostly 170 BPM, and sometimes it feels like James Clements has been avoiding that tempo like the plague ever since. An enormously busy two years later, he finally re-emerges in familiar clothing with that album's spiritual sequel, Out of Sync, on New Zealand/Berlin-based Samurai Music.
Out of Sync indeed returns to the median 170, but it's even less straightforward about it than its predecessor. The trudging rhythms feel like they're wading through the heavyset atmospherics, and they're built in such a way that even the most aggressive of tracks still rumble with a linearity that's more techno than techstep. ASC's world is becoming ever more grandiose—maybe it's all that sound design work he's been doing for films—and the stage set for Out of Sync is cavernous, a veritable playground of steel and chrome tailor-made for bits and bobs of synth to bounce around in. His work here figures him a bit like the Monolake of ambient: this music so carefully sculpted, textured so painstakingly, that it's almost too perfect, too divinely metallic to be made by a human.
Clements takes full advantage of the stereo spectrum, creating an immersive experience that feels fathoms deep and miles wide. The reverbed chords that drift in on the offbeats of "Oneironaut" are breathtaking not because of the enormous release that marks their arrival, but because of the way they ghost from the left channel into the deepest recesses of the right. Every sound on Out of Sync is aglow with warm reverb, but it's a focused, rather than lazy, sort of shroud. Even the tiniest sounds on beatless opener "Spheres" leave little vapor trails behind in their movement, the kind of fastidious detail that makes Clements one of my personal favourite ambient producers. He shows off this particular dimension in fine form with interludes like "A Song For Hope," where the drones flicker and lick at the surface like minuscule flames.
If the album's first half (minus the assembly-line funk of "Glass Walls") is mostly hawk-eyed meandering minutiae, its back end takes a surprising turn mining the same measured aggression of some of his early break-heavy work. "Prometheus" marches with purpose, never breaking from its engineered shackles but lashing out fiercely within those confines. The venomous "Blurred Pictures" squirms and contorts itself into a pseudo-techno banger, one of the most visceral things Clements has done in ages. If there's one thing that Out of Sync possesses, it's clarity, even through all the machine-generated haze. It's also easily Clements' most focused, purposeful full-length release yet.