The "dubstep album" is a difficult thing; it's no coincidence that the best are only tangentially related to the genre. Burial's albums were spooky garage, 2562's Unbalance unstable techno, Kode9's Memories of the Future steeped in dub, Guido's Anidea leaning towards grime and poppy songcraft... You get the picture. Frankly, dubstep's dank and meditative vibes are not really album fare. Edges and borders bleed between six minute chunks of moody dread, and the experience can easily become an hour of plodding monochrome.
Leeds producer Jack Sparrow's debut is a good "dubstep album," though, and it doesn't even have to step very far outside of dubstep to accomplish this. Circadian is dubstep through-and-through, its bleak greyness silhouetting a stunning journey rather than a muddled mess. Circadian refers to a circadian rhythm, the roughly twenty-four-hour cycle assumed by living things, and the album indeed has somewhat of a progressive arc, though it's more likely to invoke the idea of a story rather than properly weave a tale.
Jack Sparrow's success is twofold; one, his music feeds on its own endless tension. Sparrow makes dark, brooding tracks, removed from contemporaries who use wobbling or snaking LFO bass for release. Instead, Sparrow lets off steam through his intricately layered percussion, as well as occasional brief outbursts (the moment of erupting breaks on "Relapse" is particularly breathtaking), rarely looking up from his heads-down stance. Secondly, immersion; his world might not be immediately accessible, but its gaping chasm is easy enough to fall into. Circadian lacks mid-range, consisting mostly of drums and miles-underground sub-bass. It draws the listener in, becoming the forced center of gravity: the drums don't merely pound and clink, they surround, enchant and conjure.
And conjure they do; Circadian is the voyeuristic view of someone's subconscious wrestling with personal demons, a journey through a frightening dreamscape where the only comfort lies in knowing that they're not your own dreams. The gentle bassline of "Loveless" induces sleep, and the bottom drops off completely with the guttural tribalisms of "The Chase VIP" and "Terminal," culminating in the gurgling ugliness of "Subterranean" and "Dune." The album's most arresting moments come at its end, where the vision turns from hazily hallucinogenic to fantastical; "Relapse" and "Regress" are excursions into some mutant form of drum & bass, reaching obscenely high BPMs as they practically lift off the ground.
The journey ends in motionless suspension with "Exit," a title which suggests escape but delivers nothing but excruciating purgatory. This cliffhanger ending might not quite complete the album's circadian rhythm cycle, though it's hard to fault Sparrow when he's achieved something so remarkable: a dubstep album that doesn't compromise. Circadian uses its bleak greyscale to explore new levels of reduced brilliance. The dubstep album is a difficult thing, but apparently not for Jack Sparrow.
Tracklist: Jack Sparrow - Circadian01. Loveless
02. Dread feat. Ruckspin
03. The Chase VIP
07. Subterranean feat. Indi Kaur
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