Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Maximum Wolf - Spacescapes (album review)

If there’s one musical craze that’s definitely risen to prominence in the past few years, it’s that highly debated style of bass-heavy electronica known as dubstep. Known for its distinctive repetition of oscillating so-called “wub wub wub” synth patterns and ridiculously intense use of bass tones, what was once a relatively underground phenomenon has suddenly gone quite mainstream, and the sound has transcended several genre borders. Sonny Moore was once the vocalist for a post-hardcore group From First to Last, but you may now know him for packing out venues and headlining festivals worldwide under his Skrillex moniker. The members of British space-rock superstars Muse attended a Skrillex concert and were influenced by the phenomenon enough to include some of the style on their new album. And even closer to home, Perth progressive rockers Karnivool raised a few eyebrows in 2011 when they took along dubstep/drum and bass producer Shockone on the road for a full national tour, with the Perth musician taking to the decks for some very un-rock-and-roll DJ sets immediately prior to Karnivool’s appearance. Make no mistake, for the time being at least, dubstep is here to stay, and it’s apparently not just a sound for the “ravers”.

Which brings us to this here album – an entirely independent, and debut for that matter, release from a young Melbourne producer going under the appropriately animalistic alias of Maximum Wolf. Like the aforementioned acts, Maximum Wolf comes from a more rock-oriented background. Known to most in the Melbourne underground music scene by his last name Ramadge, or simply Ram, you may have come across him fronting the scuzzy dance-punk prty-starting trio Humans. However, there’s very little sonic overlap between Humans and Maximum Wolf, so if you’re expecting more of the same with the cleverly-titled Spacescapes, well, don’t. The album fires into life with Existence, which, at seven minutes and twenty-six seconds, comfortably holds the title of the longest track on the album. It is, as you would expect from a track of that length, a slow-builder; beginning with gentle chiming synth leads and some steadily rising glitchy beats. Some underlying bass rumbles set the tone nicely for things to come, with the tension rising until finally, POW! At around the five-minute mark, the whole thing disintegrates into a gloriously messy sonic overload of synthesised distortion and broken beats. You’re already getting the urge to dance around your bedroom/loungeroom like you’re out at your nightclub of choice on a Friday night, and it’s only the first track.

From then on in, Spacescapes rarely lets up in its intensity and energy – if you’ve ever been to a Humans gig, you know that Ram is one crazy character, and this is an album that won’t surprise you in the least. Though dubstep is certainly a prominent stylistic influence on his Maximum Wolf sound, he’s clearly willing to play around with other sounds and there’s plenty of EDM bases covered here – groovy electro-house in tracks like EE, some borderline trance in Mysterious, experiments in breakbeat on the likes of Jupiter, while some of the later tracks on the album delve into some chilled-out ambience (see Neptune) and effectively act to as a balance to some of the more intense moments on the album. Of which there are plenty. You’ll be hard pressed to find a track (on any other album this year really) with a more monstrous sound than Mystery, with its window-rattling subsonic frequencies and hyperactive rave-tastic beats. There’s a film clip online for that one too. It’s interesting to note that in recent times, there has been a bit of an increased focus in the electronic dance music scene on so-called “minimal” music and a “less is more” approach – obviously nobody informed Maximum Wolf, with tracks like Sharks and CME proving that MORE IS MORE. And if this album is any indication, hopefully there is indeed going to be more.

Key tracks: Existence, Mystery, Sharks, Jupiter

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