Briefly appearing with three mysterious self-released EPs of dark, lean dubstep menace, Anstam sadly disappeared in 2009 back into the ghostly realm from whence they came before we could properly size them up. That's why their unexpected return on Modeselektor's 50 Weapons label was such a lovely surprise: the new tracks for the label took the previously sulking dubstep to new levels of junglist agility, held down with a garish sense of the occult. This may be due to the fact that they may have jettisoned a member in the meantime, but things—as they tend to always be with Anstam—are not exactly clear on that front. In any case, the way Anstam weaves between styles and genres is almost steampunk, desaturated retro sensibilities rendered in modern clean lines and Art Deco shapes. A stunning FACT mix was a good hint as to these split allegiances, somehow stitching together jungle, classical, OG dubstep and IDM with an ear for extended blends that matched the rhythmic complexity of their own tracks. Suffocatingly dark, it also made Anstam out to be, well, kind of scary.
It's fear that debut album, Dispel Dances, feeds on—their music was always a little foreboding, but it's never been this directly threatening. The sensibility manifests itself twofold, split almost evenly throughout the album's two halves. Dispel Dances' first side creeps to life in a suitably spidery fashion, establishing its curious mood of mock macabre and hammy horror from the get-go. Opener "Watching the Ships Go Down" wastes no time, mixing trademark wildly-knifing drums with an assortment of real world sounds: bass guitar, frantically dashed piano figures and horror movie motifs. Their unique palette strikes a chord that's psuedo-Baroque: Alternately throbbing and sweeping strings are draped all over the record, providing melodic accents here and brusque countermelodies there.
Dispel Dances's second half sees Anstam crawling into the sewers for something more concerned with chewing up the continuum than mincing flesh. Album highlight "I Shouldn't Even Be Here" submerges things in sludge ala recent Andy Stott material, all burnt handclaps and possessed arpeggios, while "In the Bull Run" pulls apart jungle rhythms, sounding like a garage beat caught up in a tornado. Never content to do less than three things at once, however, the record marks a return to the morbid with "Black Friesian Monoliths," linking Anstam's theatrical inclinations with straight dance music. The housey hi-hats feel cruelly mocking, and the 808 rimshots hint at their "bass music" compatriots, for something that feels like a menacing perversion of the Chicago house revival.
Really, an album like Dispel Dances shouldn't work as well it does: the combination of junglist dread and B-movie devices seems too easy and transparent to be anything more than superficially pleasing. But it's not just about the cross-genre inventiveness: it's Anstam's visceral but measured impact, taking jungle's best attribute—the nimble yet punishingly tactile slam of breaks—and fashioning an exacting but no less pleasing take, tickling all the same pleasure centres. Anstam never quite picks one single niche to navigate but doesn't sprawl either, packing a whole lot to chew on in forty minutes. It turns out that Dispel Dances is so much more than scary: it's a little brilliant too, if you can see past all that horror makeup.
Buy Anstam - Dispel Dances at
Tracklist: Anstam - Dispel Dances 01. Watching the Ships Go Down
02. Bitten by the Snake
03. To All the Voices
04. Stone Cold Hug
05. Handsome Talks the Talk
06. I Shouldn't Even Be Here
07. In the Bull Run
09. Black Friesian Monoliths
10. Say My Name
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