Dominick Martin has always been a unique voice in drum & bass, the epitome of cool and classy restraint even when such things weren't as favoured in the genre. He's also remarkably prolific, releasing a steady stream of EPs along with an impressive number of albums. The self-assured Even If is his seventh in nine years. Going by the Calibre name credited on the sleeve, it's the follow-up to ambitious 2008 effort Overflow, two discs of sophisticated and uncluttered d&b dressed in jazzy basslines and heavily melodic flourishes. But in spirit, it's the true follow-up to his downtempo Shine a Light album released in 2009 under his given name, alternating between hazy ambient passages and pop songs painted with soft, gentle brushstrokes. While it wasn't always a resounding success, it showed that Martin's melodicism could manifest itself in more direct incarnations, and even fully revealed a decent singing voice in the process.
Compared to Shine a Light, Even If is definitely a drum & bass album, but now the polished metal of Overflow is encased in the former album's warm brandy glow. The scale is, fortunately, also dialed back: compared to Overflow's two discs, Even If is a much more manageable single disc, and even if it's still too long, the combination of relative brevity and detail-oriented production makes for an enriching listen. Like so much of the more minimal strain of drum & bass, Calibre's tracks sometimes feel too spare, relying on barebones loops and a few chords: stack that up eighteen times over the course of a double album and it gets tiring.
Even If's magnificent title track is a pitch-perfect example: loping, gentle breaks are caressed by circling strings that unravel and entwine beautifully, as sampled moans rub up against Martin's own affecting mumbled sighs. His musicality shines through in brief but arresting moments, as when those same vocal moans melt into an electric guitar, the way tickled ivories interact with squelchy techstep bass notes on "All You Got" and in the virtuosic bassline on the pensive closer "Manchester Nights." Martin also turns his eye outwards: the minimalistic and naturalistic "Thirst Dub" and the prickly electro of "Open Your Eyes" hint at Autonomic with their reverb-soaked atmospheres and warm chords, while "Acid Hands" sands down its beats to raw and noisy roughage.
The album still occasionally suffers from Calibre syndrome, however: too often the politeness or effete sense of classically trained musicality borders on the anodyne. Tracks like "Gone Away" or "Rose" simply fail to make much of an impression beyond their surface-level melodies. The ones that do stick—such as the title track or the Genotype-recalling dub crawl of "Steptoe"—are haunting, but those very promising heights are only reached a few times. Even If is likely a transitional step as Martin reconciles his recent embrace of other genres with his formerly formulaic drum & bass self, but it's unsatisfying nonetheless. Give it another album—and we can be sure there's another one coming sooner rather than later, by his track record—and hopefully he'll get the balance right.
Buy Calibre - Even If... at
Tracklist: Calibre - Even If... 01. All You Got
02. Even If
05. Thirst Dub
06. Me Myself And I
08. Open Your Eyes
09. Acid Hands
10. Section Dub
11. Gone Away
12. No Reply
13. Manchester Nights