The question always arises when a producer emerges with a rapid flurry of 12-inches as to whether they can translate their vision to the album format. With Nomad, Headhunter assuredly puts any such doubts to rest. Under the tutelage of drum & bass stalwart Tech Itch, this Bristolian first made ripples in the dubstep landscape on Tech's Ascension imprint with "7th Curse," a stark slice of brooding halfstep. Hunter's sound has since evolved at quick pace, absorbing influences and mutating incrementally. After finding his way into the crate of N-Type, Headhunter caught the fickle ear of Tempa's A&R department and a volley of releases ensued. Nomad is his debut long-player for the esteemed label.
The album opens with the throbbing 4/4 dub of "Lifeform." Impossibly warm swathes of bass embrace the listener as sub-aquatic melodies weave throughout space. Running several BPM lower than your standard dubstep fare, Headhunter's opening salvo is the kind of thing to get dub techno fiends hot under the collar, revealing a penchant for majestic dub chords in the vein of Andy Stott and Basic Channel.
"Prototype" follows in a style more characteristic of the technoid dubstep hybrids that Headhunter has perfected. It has a nebulous cadence that oscillates between rigid halfstep and more lively four-to-the-floor elements. Headhunter plays with rhythm, highlighting dubstep's occasionally ambiguous sense of tempo, as patterns seemingly run at two separate tempos. When he graft his music to the metronomic pulse of a 4/4 kick, its character is always given a subtle twist with offset percussion to make a distinction from pure forms of techno. Yet it's when his influences converge in equal measure that the most compelling outcomes emerge, such as when the rolling bass of "Grounded" is fused with luscious, melodic pads and pinpoint percussion.
Impatient steppers seeking the visceral rush of a quick and dirty bass fix may find little joy in an album that rewards patience with structures that undulate and evolve gradually. But it's refreshing to hear a producer shy away from the one-dimensional drop structure that has come to dominate dubstep floors. The only misstep is the standard wobble bass riff of "Physics Impulse," which sounds disappointingly pedestrian in the context of an album that makes little concession to the formulas of populist dubstep.
Nomad follows an interesting sequence of developments within dubstep over the past three years, with technoid transmissions from the likes of Appleblim, Peverelist and 2562 infiltrating dubstep with increased frequency. Striking a balance between austere futurism and engagingly emotive music, this inventive debut evokes the tone of deep techno, without descending into sheer mimicry. Headhunter treads a distinct path that takes his influences, grinds them up and spits out mutant, idiosyncratic forms—the result is a stunningly cohesive slab of post-garage hybridisation.
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Tracklist: Headhunter - Nomad 01. Lifeform
05. You Say
06. Paradigm Shift
07. Physics Impulse
08. In Motion
10. Birk's Range