Blackdown, AKA esteemed journalist Martin Clark, has always utilized a jumble of ideas and themes, from urban sprawl to ethnography to the science of rhythm, and the music he makes with his partner Dusk is just as dense and overloaded with information. These are artists who saw (and chronicled) the spring of dubstep, and have often, through curating the Keysound label, helped to nudge it along to further adventurous places. Their debut LP Margins Music was a stunning portrait of London's darkest corners, something that hybridized grime, dubstep and garage. Dasaflex, their second, lands in a drastically different landscape, and sees the group expanding their horizons beyond London.
Dusk & Blackdown have an idiosyncratic grip on texture and structure, which Dasaflex wholeheartedly emphasizes. Melodies are inspired by the mischievous grin of classic grime tracks. Playful panning is heard on the title track. Vocals are chopped into minuscule chord-like bits in blazing Zed Bias style. Their peculiar taste in vocal samples only increases the album's circus-like atmosphere, from the gruff exhortations of "We Ain't Beggin'" to the surprising and familiarly funky gasps on "Don't Stop (Give It To Me)."
Here they take pages from the latter days of speed garage, before dubstep had adopted its new moniker, and Dasaflex sort of plays out as a parallel universe in the same way that LHF's work on Keysound hinted at pre-garage darkside drum & bass. These tracks have the aggressive little LFO revs and the coke-and-champagne bounce of turn-of-the-century UK pirate radio, as well as the open-mindedness of two guys who have heard it all, so you get the maddeningly disorienting acrobat tricks of "R In Zero G" alongside more traditional workouts like "Wicked Vibes," all doused in technicolour of the SoundCloud-era explosion of bass music. That palette is also the album's weakness, though: no longer honed in on their close-to-home urban jungle, they occasionally sound out of their element.
Nonetheless, tracks like the rollicking "Hypergrime," where chipmunk vocals ride rattlesnake snares, prove the duo still have the flair for drama that defined their debut album, and the album's opener, a seven-minute waft of cardamom and incense grounded by intense bass drops and Farrah's semi-spiritual moans, ranks among their most riveting moments. Taking us from there through 11 tracks of twisting sinew and scrap metal is an adventure any way you look at it, even if some junctures are less inspiring than others. The album ends with "Fraction," a no-bullshit garage workout where the snares break out into occasional rolls that sound like woodpeckers, all sat atop an impossibly funky Shackleton bassline. It's one of the few moments on the album where they sound completely content with being themselves, emphasizing the meat of their sound rather than the decorative garnish.