The word sophistication can mean a lot of things. To some, its connotations will be cold and sharp. To others, it may conjure intense or daunting atmospheres of endless refinement. One thing sophistication rarely manages to be though, is fun. The eponymous debut album from Belfast's David Baxter bridges that gap between smooth, silky sophistication and rambunctious, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink hedonism. Stylistically it lines itself up somewhere between the future-funk of Onra at his smoothest and the intricate sound-scape design of fellow Northerner, Barry Lynn and is fittingly released on French label Airflex Labs, marking a resonance with the particular funk of that country's electro and house traditions.
There's an awful lot going on here, pretty much all the time. Baxter's beats are detailed, rarely feeling like loops running on and on, rather working through tiny variations constantly. They take in all kinds of sounds, from metallic samples to Latin hits through to classic sounds like the clanging 808 cowbell on "The Mule." Electro-style bass bursts into the mid-range often enough to provide filthy, funky counter-rhythms to these slick beats. The swung hats and sub of "Ormeau Strip" hint at garage or dubstep before the major chord synths filter into view and we're off in another direction entirely. It's just one example of many where Baxter incorporates a multitude of references into a short piece of music, to surprising and often joyful effect.
The ambient sounds heard in the intro, interlude and outro are often swirling away in the background, opening up spaces between chords or lending depth to a beat. They are subtle nuances that, over the course of the record, prevent the build-up of listener fatigue as might often be the case with an album this long and this full-on. When Baxter hits, he hits pretty hard, such as on the Boxcutter-featuring "Batteria," where Brian Greene's vocals come to the fore over a ferociously busy track. The hard-swung beat again hints at dubstep but the richness of the synth textures and the soul in Greene's voice mean the whole picture imparts something entirely different.
Baxter's take on soulful, maximalist electronica is interesting, exciting and a little different to anything else going on right now. His plucking of different strands is matched by his ability to draw them together into a sensible, understandable whole. While the shiny production and vocoder leads will grab attention, the subtle background elements reward repeat listens. Never pounding but never too light, Kab Driver revels in a style that is unlikely to be in vogue at any given time but the attention to detail on this album would suggest that Baxter couldn't really care less. Sophisticated, intelligent and a lot of fun.