Review: Thelem – We Ain’t The Same EP [ARTKL018]

Thelem is back on Artikal for the biggest statement of intent since his Haunted Harmonics EP in April of last year. Back then, Thelem was all about playing with soundfields and shards of found recordings with delightful results. Here with the “We Ain’t the Same” EP, his love of hyper-tactile sound design is heightened to points of high drama when framed and contextualized against the rhythmics of grime, American trap, and the sluggish crawl of halfstep dubstep. Though not to be bogged down by the slowness of all these genres, Thelem includes two lethal DnB tunes, the meditative roller “Cascading” and the T-Man fronted “Mind Games”. T-man leads his and his Flowdan fire and brimstone tone to the title track (as well Reconstrvct 22’s techno x soundsystem proceedings). “We Ain’t the Same” seems to appear as a sonic snapshot (and things to come, perhaps an album) of what Thelem has been up to in the studio, grafting grime melodies onto his clinical and rich sonic tapestries. The results yield repeated listens and repeated rewinds.

The title track blossoms with Terminator stare-downs and Predator infra-red scan synths. T-Man erupts with a lyrical backhand slap to all the fakers and posers, uttering “we ain’t the same” till he unleashes a holy lenging of his lyrical prowess and how no can test, sending “bare emcees to the morgue”. T-Man steps it up even more – double timing his flow to more “American rap” territory. Thelem isn’t messing either, as the rhythmic construction of “We Ain’t the Same” is full of bitcrushed growls, trappy hi-hats that spray with abandon, and trippy half-formed Gameboy melodies ala those early Hyperdub plates from Quarta330. My pick of the litter has to be “Get a Grip”. Insectoid aural skitterings give way to robotronic gangsta call-and-response vocalisms. Spinbacks and other sonic ephemera weave in between trap-eqsue melodic bleeps that’ll make you wanna crip-walk down the boulevard with some gin and juice. Rather than the starter-pack, festival-trap 808 kicks, Thelem grafts high-grade grit aimed for the bigger systems that’ll blow the PA at any festival. Shockingly, “Get a Grip” is the slowest outta the lot too, hovering around a more appropriate hip-hop/trap tempo of 88bpm, perfect to blend with some stripped back DnB rollers! In lesser hands, this trap ting would come off hackneyed and truly awful, but with Thelem’s opthalmic sound design “Get a Grip” shines and stands out the most (for me at least) on the EP.

“Equippin” follows the right hook of “Get a Grip” with an uppercut of Super Mario blips and other 8-bit grime goodness. Other ghostly, time-stretched voice spits bars (+5 sample hunter points for the head who can tell me who it is) until the drop. Much like the previous track, both trap and dubstep rhythmic DNA coalesce into some mongrel musik.  Utilizing more 808 kicks and snares than “Get a Grip”, “Equippin” pivots on trap hi-hat gun fire and plummeting 808 subs, as the 8-bit melody forms the wobble that serves as accent, dipping deeper into that 140 groove. At the halfway mark, Thelem strips it back clean to the bone, just cavernous snares cracks, thudding hip-hop kicks, and ectoplasmic mists.  The one-two combinations of “Get a Grip” and “Equippin” are finished with the left jab of “Latched”. Meditative pads become the playground of machine elves as Queen Ayahuasca laughs at the psychonaut’s naivety. Eski squares become transparent purple neon serpents coiling up the chakra channels of the spinal column. Bitcrushed bass pulses transfigured, and arcing g-funk saw waves echo the sun-bleached freeways of Cali until they peel away into a field recording collage of Vangelis nightscapes, doors slamming, reversed piano boxes. The N64 Bowser’s Castle theme returns with quick and deft bongo edits that irie up the roadman mentality of “Latched”.

Shifting gears with the last two tracks and displaying his love of DnB, Thelem enlists the help of Gremlinz and T-Man for the militant “Mind Games” and finds himself deep in the groove with “Cascading”. On “Mind Games” Thelem and Gremlinz forge a shark eyed, knife in hand half-time riddim that sounds like it would fit perfectly on Cyclon Recordings if it were just the instrumental. Graced by T-Man, the song is elevated to a screed of keeping your circle of friends at arms length and taking care of business. The clinical percs are razor sharp as ever, the sub kicks down walls like a swat team would, however the only thing its lacking is Thelem’s encompassing, hallucinatory soundscapes. Meanwhile, “Cascading” is the more stripped back, engulfing roller. With quicksilver percs and surgical bass weight “Cascading” speeds along like some future Tokyo motorcycle gang ala Akira. Properly dark enough for the rudebwoys, but light and sweet enough for the ladies, “Cascading” is a nice balance between the masculine and feminine energies at play in the dance. However, both the DnB tracks suffer from a “tacked on” feeling, neither emulating or improving the first four grime-influenced tracks in sound design or rhythmic range, but relying on rather middle of the road modern DnB tropes that have been done before. Not bad, but perhaps a bit by the numbers.

Overall, Thelem’s new EP stands out based on his synthesis between dubstep, trap, the resurgence of grime at the moment and his particular and layered sound design work. Its a big step forward from his “Haunted Harmonics” EP in which his sound design reached its full potential, and here we see Thelem push that lovingly labored design into newer territory by bringing in different rhythmic approaches. The only caveat is the vanilla inclusion of DnB tracks, which while they don’t exactly distract from the EP, only seem to “add more fat” to the EP.

ARTKL018 will be available on 12″ vinyl and digital format October 9th.
Pre-order from the official Artikal Music Store, Unearthed Sounds or Redeye

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