A drum & bass veteran recaptures his '90s form.
Full Circle lives up to its title, diving into the sounds of J Majik's early days. A track like "The Crow Knows," with its decaying samples and vintage Amen-break worship, is the musical equivalent of buying pre-distressed jeans—it already sounds old. Is that a bad thing? No, because "The Crow Knows" is as propulsive, inventive and thrilling as the records it might remind you of, including Spratling's own. "Codebreaker" features over-the-top samples of Darth Vader, a cheesy old-school tic that shows Spratling isn't taking himself too seriously. This breeziness is the X factor that makes Full Circle remarkable. It's a record full of hummable melodies and gleeful drum runs.
Other tracks, though, sound clear-eyed and new. The LP begins with a dazzling tribute to LTJ Bukem and Good Looking Records in "Serenity," where the cosmic synths and whale-song melodies sparkle with a modern sheen. The break chopping on the smooth, jazzy "Red Moon" is crisp and box-fresh, while "Codebreaker" and "Hold You" imagine where drum & bass could have gone had Ed Rush & Optical's Wormhole not established techstep as the genre's dominant strain. These tracks loosen the '90s-and-beyond toughness of drum & bass with soulful vocals and brighter synth sounds. Not quite liquid, not quite techstep and not quite jungle, Full Circle overlaps all three, resulting in a looser and more expressive approach.
Thanks in part to labels like Rupture and an increasing interest in breakbeats from all angles, the sounds of jungle and early drum & bass are prominent and revered once again. What Spratling has over everyone else is age and experience. He doesn't need to reinvent this music, because he knows exactly why those old jungle records still sound compelling. Since his days on Metalheadz, Spratling's music brushed against the charts before spending the '10s in a type of stasis. Contractual troubles kept him from releasing music for a couple years. Having switched from analogue to digital production, Spratling found that the latter's limitless possibilities made it hard to actually finish anything. He moved to the Canary Islands and didn't really pick up music again until his kids Googled him and began asking why he'd stopped. Full Circle makes it seem like he never did.