Former drum & bass duo Kryptic Minds made the move to dubstep in 2009, and immediately positioned themselves as champions of the brooding brand of classic-leaning dubstep most visibly anchored by influential Rinse FM jock Youngsta. Characterized by spare structures, moody restraint and an emphasis on atmosphere, the dank and cavernous tunes have earned the nickname "dungeon" from some. The English group's first album for Swamp81 was a remarkably fussy, unfriendly affair, occasionally beautiful when not unrelentingly austere, the sound of two producers finding their footing. Their second album Can't Sleep, however, comes on the burgeoning Black Box imprint, and in a way it's a pitch-perfect representation of that label's classicist approach.
It would be unfair to call Can't Sleep a backward-looking album, but Kryptic Minds know what they want to do and exactly how to do it, and they don't do much of anything more. One gets the feeling that like the previous album, the duo's experimentation and ingenuity went into the meticulously detailed sound design rather than the songwriting, and true to form each track perfectly carves out its own unique sense of space and dynamics. Armed with a clarity improved over the last album, it's hard not to glean an influence from atmospheric drum & bass and ambient jungle in the melodic strings that now coat the album, lurking in the background of tracks like "Alone" or coming straight to the fore in the freezing chill of "Fade to Nothing" and the striking melodrama of closer "1000 Lost Cities."
The band make other incremental moves towards accessibility, incorporating vocals and an array of new synth sounds that light up the robotic joints enough to keep things from turning totally pitch black. First single "Can't Sleep" perfectly defines this stage of Kryptic Minds, as Alys B's vocals billow out into the sterile and uninhabited air, fogging the chrome surfaces of the factory assembly that churns around her. The drums below slice and shudder in mid-air, a newly strengthened side of the duo that seems borrowed from their frantic drum & bass past (anyone remember "Hide the Tears" on Metalheadz?). When the duo does employ the ever-abused LFO "wobble," they do it quickly and subtly, letting pockets of gurgling bass shoot through narrowly defined contours and steel veins.
Kryptic Minds generally have two established sounds on Can't Sleep: trim and lean, or lumbering and heavy. No matter their goal, Simon Shreeve and Brett Bigden always manage to do it with the utmost finesse and grace. In a genre more and more often associated with crashing beats and unpleasant screeching, subtlety and nuance is precious; and while the kind of dubstep Kryptic Minds continue to dish out can rarely be said to be breaking down boundaries, it's solid enough to lay a promising foundation and detailed enough to keep you coming back.
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Tracklist: Kryptic Minds - Can't Sleep 01. Brief Passing
02. The Things They Left Behind
03. Just After Sunset
04. Fade To Nothing
05. No More No Less
06. Can't Sleep feat. Alys Be
09. The Fifth
10. Depth Of Field
11. Arcane feat. Youngsta
12. A Glimpse Of Hope
13. 1000 Lost Cities
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