4AD – a label responsible for some of the most important post-punk and shoegaze of the ’80s and ’90s, as well as some of the best indie releases of the last decade – made a couple of surprising acquisitions late last year in British producers Joker
and Zomby. Aside from being two of the more prominent members of Britain’s burgeoning bass music scene, the pair and their music have little in common. Zomby’s 4AD debut, Dedication
,was a moody, antagonistic effort cloaked in the same mystique as its creator (seven pages of Google search results won’t pull up a decipherable photo of him), much less concerned with winning new fans than showcasing his varied talents as a producer.
Joker, on the other hand, sounds comparatively congenial on The Vision. He’s almost too eager to win new listeners over, and, in many ways, never really gets comfortable in the spotlight this debut has afforded him. Over the past couple of years, the Bristol-based musician rose to prominence as one of the city’s most celebrated producers in over a decade, thanks to the release of instant-classic singles on Kapsize and Hyperdub. Where tracks like “Snake Eater”, “Purple City”, and “Holly Brook Park” fused sub-smashing G-funk bass with red-hot UK dub beats for an especially enticing blend, The Vision largely flounders. In the big move to this new, very self-consciously club-ready sound, Joker forgoes his crafty production and rugged, street-smart rhythms for a dull, edgeless sound.
Between recruiting a likely diva and crooner (Jessica Ware and Silas of Danish electro-poppers Turboweekend, respectively) for the record’s first two singles and boiling his craft down to a predictable build-hook-drop-break-outro, Joker undoes himself to the point of near unlistenability. Even tracks that aren’t insufferably crooned over sound like pop instrumentals begging to be picked up by the next winner of the X Factor. It’s not that pop-ifying dubstep is always a bad thing. Established producers Breakage, Jamie Woon, and even supergroup Magnetic Man have broken into the UK singles charts with crossover dubstep hits of their own in the past year or two. Instead, it’s the uninspired and homogenous manner in which Joker goes about ironing out nearly everything that made his tunes memorable to begin with that makes The Vision one of the most disappointing debuts of the year.
Essential Tracks: “Tron”