Photek's return has been remarkably difficult to parse, with the drum & bass legend taking on dubstep-indebted styles with a big-room sensibility that could range from passable to disastrous. The notoriously fussy producer had seemed to throw his trademark subtlety out the window. His luxurious DJ-KiCKS helped to show how his heavy-handed newer work might hold its own in a more contemplative context, but it fell victim to a meandering sense of aimlessness. Most promisingly of all, Parkes announced his first album since 2007's unremarkable Form and Function Vol. 2, throwing listeners an appetizing bone with first single "Pyramid."
The track likely had Photek fans salivating. The lush number carries the instantly recognizable jazzy shuffle of Modus Operandi-era Parkes, with brushed cymbals pivoting and swaying around a seductive central rhythm. The touches of sitar and backwards strings skirt the line of cheesy but mainly serve to add sumptuous texture, the signpost of latter-day Photek. I'd wager "Pyramid" is the best track Parkes has put out since his "revival," pointing to his strengths without heading full-bore into the greener pastures of the '90s. The velvet-ensconced breaks of "Shape Change" and the plangent acid strokes of "Mistral" here provide further evidence of his deft hand at arrangement—a gentle mysticism expressed in poignant strings and rushes of synth.
Just as often, however, Parkes' preference for grand gestures threatens to drown out his songs. The heavy-handed piano of "Munich" is a step too far on a dark electro throbber, and too often he chooses pads and synths that sound fresh from the factory. Generic-brand bass music, it's easy to picture the softly pumping "Aviator" or "Quadrant" soundtracking some self-consciously "cool" car commercial.
But while those tracks are at least enjoyable if not a tad anonymous, towards the end of the album Parkes simply lands flat on his face. "Oshun" thumps at an astounding 136 BPM, obnoxious progressive house that sounds completely out of place and time. Continuing on that theme, "One of a Kind" attempts a grand build-up but simply stalls on its preset trance synths. The closer is where Parkes makes his worst gaffe, however, taking on Ray LaMontagne's bluesy inflections. They're every bit as incongruous here as you'd expect, and it's an egregious end to an otherwise decent album that severely loses the plot as it stumbles to the finish line.
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Tracklist: Photek - KU:PALM 01. Signals
05. Shape Charge
10. Sleepwalking feat. Linche
11. One of a Kind
12. This Love feat. Ray La Montagne