It's like they never left. Horsepower Productions are largely credited as dubstep's progenitors, with their debut album In Fine Style cementing the dark garage style that would eventually mutate into what we now call dubstep (or what we called dubstep back in 2005, anyway). Not to mention that their debut release launched the Tempa label, the imprint that propelled Skream, Benga and more to fame. 2004 follow-up To the Rescue removed some of the light-footed skip in favour of cannabis-saturated paranoia, more dubstep than proto-dubstep. Then they disappeared altogether. After founding member Benny Ill revived the group with new partner Jay King last year with the impressive "Kingstep" single, two other original members allegedly join him again for Quest for Sonic Bounty.
The idea of a "reunion" album in a world as obsessed with unceasingly forward trajectories as dubstep seems almost oxymoronic, but Quest for Sonic Bounty is so satisfying and complete that it makes the intervening six years irrelevant. That's not to say their dubstep is regressive or passe: it just sounds classic. Horsepower have stripped back their sound to its barest elements, replacing much of the Middle Eastern tinge their early work had with something more North American Frontier. The reverberating migrant thunderclap of opener "Rain" sounds like a futurist Western movie set in London, and its subsequent track "Mexican Slayride" continues nudging towards the motif.
Quest is all about classic dub (and dread), make no mistake, but the group still find new things to say and new ways to say them. "Water" takes an uncharacteristically aggressive angle for the group, but the sawtooth wobbles combust and healthily diffuse their pent-up energy rather than endlessly see-saw. The album is most inspiring at its weirdest: "18th Special" combines floating metallic drum samples with rainforest noises, a hellish and primitive dubstep inversion of their inimitable "Gorgon Sound." Closer "Poison White" finally brings those exotic tropes back in for a skewed sliding axis of wonky dub chords, breaking out into the peyote-fueled psychedelia Horsepower have been hinting at for years.
However, one of Horsepower Production's most divisive idiosyncrasies is in full force on Quest for Sonic Bounty: film samples. The album samples dialogue excessively, and when the result isn't cringe-worthy, it's usually just annoying—on "Water," the distracting samples come close to derailing the considerable groove. When they work, they add to the smoky tavern atmosphere. While not all the rhythms are terribly inventive, they all sound amazing, bright, weighty and crisp. Classic-era dubstep is a sound that's become either all-too ignored or viewed through rose-tinted glasses, but its ancestors show that there's life in it yet.
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Tracklist: Horsepower Productions - Quest for the Sonic Bounty 01. Rain
02. Mexican Slayride
05. Kingstep (LP Version)
06. 18th Special
07. Damn It (Extended LP Version)
08. Lee Perry - Exercising (Horsepower Remix)
09. Poison Wine
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