With only a remix single released in 2013 and almost zero information regarding the group on the ever-present and omniscient Internet, A/T/O/S slyly dropped a massive and impressive debut album on Mala’s instabag label Deep Medi. I, myself, originally thought that A/T/O/S was some type of inter-label collaboration, however my theory has been debunked. While Deep Medi has been known to release stuff a little more “leftfield” such as Mark Pritchard, the industrial necromancers Old Apparatus, and that lovingly quirky dubtronica release by Ulrich Troyer, A/T/O/S’s self-titled album is Deep Medi stretching itself a bit further – the label’s willingness to push such a full, coherent and self-assured such as this is a interesting turn of pace after floor smashing releases by K-Man and Gantz.
The album itself tries to clear the somewhat dirty name of “trip-hop” by incorporating “aesthetic data” more in-tune with our current era that the early 90’s, namely more “avant-garde” RnB and abstract hip-hop via FlyLo’s Brainfeeder label and the CA collective Soulection. Rather than relying on trip-hops penchant for sample digging and constructing songs with said sampled pieces, A/T/O/S’s self-titled finds the duo building their own beats with confidence and gamble. However, that isn’t to say that A/T/O/S does away with all of trip-hop’s ‘aesthetic data’. Much like Tricky’s Martina Topley-Bird or Portishead’s Beth Gibbons A/T/O/S finds their beats suited to the sultry and sensual vocals of A/T/O/S’s female member which fills the emotional empty spaces left by the drunken stumbling of drums patterns and the swirling atmospherics that constitutes the flesh if the beats were the skeleton. However, for all my gibberish about the album’s ‘trip-hoppy-ness’, A/T/O/S album floats with faster tempos, flip-flopping between 140 and 100 – a quicker step than most of trip-hop’s sluggish riddims. It’s the album’s self-awareness and it’s sense of sonic “placelessness” that pays homage, but indeed furthers the genre by incorporating the DNA of Bristolian/DMZ dubstep and the whole ‘California beat scene’ with Brainfeed and the Soulection collective into trip-hop’s aesthetic data. It’s trip-hop for the millennials simply.
A/T/O/S’s self-titled is an incredibly long album, unfolding its lavender tendrils over the course of fifteen tracks. In lesser hands, such length would trip up others, however A/T/O/S is so confident and sonically varied that the tracks never over stay their welcome. It’s airy and carefree, but possesses enough darkness and melancholy that makes A/T/O/S both suited for both night-time walks or for quiet sunday room lazy days in eating food and watching Netflix. It’s the album’s undulating narrative dichotomy of light and dark, masculine sub pressure and saccharine feminine vocals that hits a carefully balance between trip-hop’s paranoid textures/beats and it’s implicit yearning to explore softer, more bedroom oriented moods. Due to the albums playfulness with ‘sonic genders’ and moods, the album’s length envelops and enroots a slower sense of pace, making the album itself more suitable for personal and more intimate listening experiences. I find that it’s a perfect soundtrack to have at a lower volume to just simply ‘vibe’ to. I mean this in no condensing or insulting fashion, rather the mood the A/T/O/S develops is one more suitable to induce relaxation or a feeling of pleasantness – that feeling after you stretch really hard after waking up on warm Saturday with nothing on the to-do-list.
Highlights for me include the lounge piano stylings of ‘What I Need’ with it’s languorous drums that falls with a heavy thud. Another would be the electro-acoustic textured 4×4 come-down of ‘Room’ with its pitter-patter percussion that may or may not be field recordings of a kid playing with the pots and pans in a grandmother’s kitchen. Though, the tune that takes the cake, so to speak, is the albums closing track ‘Variations’ which opens beautifully with some cosmic star-gazing until a loose boom-bap shuffles along as swirling keys, that are a staple of the Soulection’s producer stable, wash everything out until the singer’s voice and beat resumes while a deliciously lavender keyboard solo reminds me of those old 1990’s G-Funk beats, only slower and sexier. My only caveat is in regards to the lack of ‘interludes’ on the front end of the album. I noticed that the back end of the album having two ‘interludes’ spaced close together, I just wish for maybe one or two to even the pace of songs on the front end of the album. However, with that being said, it’s more a minor quibble than anything that detracts from the overall listening experience.
In summation, A/T/O/S’s self titled is another curveball by Deep Medi that explores a trip-hop that is globally informed rather than being a simple rehashing of America’s 90’s instrumental hip-hop scene or the collaged form that more European trip-hop styles took. I mean trip-hop, by its very nature, is an exploratory form that constant demands reinvention, however the issue/reason for trip-hop bashing seemed to stem from it’s relative ‘sonic gentrification’, as both American audiences picked up more on the hip-hop influences and ran with them, and the European audiences seemed to enjoy the more ‘out-there’ sonic textures. It seems that both these divergent, yet essentially related, sounds have finally merged (again?) into a coherent whole due in part to the globalization of underground music scenes – if anything can be necessarily called ‘underground’ anymore. A/T/O/S’s self titled seems a fitting representative of this sonic circle closing itself again.