It's not every day you come across a sprawling neo-d&b concept album described by its creator as "a vivid daydream kept memorised by its translation into art," "a narrative of adventurous intentions dashed by unforeseen misfortune" and "an observation of disengagement from a cyclical reality," replete with its very own website and scores of accompanying photos. But that's what you get with A Wandering Journal, London-based Sabre's debut LP, arriving a healthy six years into his production career. It's an intimidating prospect, bursting with implied significance and conceptual grandeur, yet for all its ostensible magnitude (this is Critical's first-ever LP, no less), the end results are strangely ambiguous, if not largely anti-climactic.
But this is no criticism. Rather, a constant tension between narrative specificity on the one hand (a doomed journey into post-apocalyptic Africa is, very roughly, the premise), and laissez-faire creative abandon on the other, makes A Wandering Journal both challenging—repeat listening is a must—and perversely satisfying. Granted, the sonic landscape is nothing radically new (think barebones nu-school drum & bass of the squashed bass/muted atmospherics/metronomic percussion variety, with added downtempo excursions), but it's by some way the furthest Sabre—know primarily for deep, jazzy rollers like "Riverside" and "Original Sin"—has delved into full-on Autonomic territory, and comes off as a powerful manifestation of that school's aesthetic syntax.
A tense, meandering collage of tracks, vignettes and interludes, disc one plays like the score to a survival documentary that was never made (something the abovementioned snaps only serve to magnify). It never really peaks, but rather ambles around in bass-soaked reverie, teasing the listener with all manner of percussive intricacies, structural cul-de-sacs and vocal asides. Highlights include "Escapade," whose oily subs and dripping snares threaten to cocoon the listener, "Leveling Out Pt. 1," in which Maxwell Golden's gritty rhymes rub up against a dark, menacing step-hop riddim, and the breathtaking "Havens Verge," thoroughly Portishead-esque in its desolate, drugged-out splendour. But such singling out of individual tracks is, ultimately, pointless: This is an album to be listened to in whole, or else not at all.
CD two, on the other hand, sees Sabre adorn his club hat for a series of discrete, floor-friendly edits, drafting in studio cohort Alix Perez and rising star Rockwell for support. The latter's take on the excellent title track certainly hits the spot—anyone familiar with his razor sharp brand of militant beat science will know what to expect—but, predictably enough, it's Sabre who steals the show, generously extending the likes of "Peril," "Marvel" and "The Intrepid" into system-stretching behemoths that DJs of a deeper disposition will lap up.
It's a quality package, all in all, never taking itself too seriously (despite the haughty rhetoric), but rather revelling in its own sense of adventure and the resultant arbitrariness of its final form(s). At once labyrinthine and unnervingly concise, anyone with even a passing interest in open-ended, open-minded bass music would do well to give it a listen. And another. And another.
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Tracklist: Sabre - A Wandering JournalCD1:
01. Day One
02. The Intrepid
03. Quarters feat. Noisia & Icicle
04. Day Four
05. A Wandering Journal
07. Follow Polaris
08. Day Eight
12. Levelling Out Pt. 1 feat. Maxwell Golden
13. Have It Your Way feat. Alix Perez
14. Day Fourteen
15. Havens Verge
01. Peril (Club mix)
02. Marvel (Club mix)
03. Quarters feat. Noisia & Icicle (Club mix)
04. The Intrepid (Club mix)
05. Javelin feat. Alix Perez
06. A Wandering Journal (Rockwell Club mix)
08. Levelling Out Pt. 2
10. Have It Your Way feat. Alix Perez (Club mix)
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