As we settle into late October, I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t (like so many other music writers across the globe) already mentally preparing my year-end best-of list. 2014 has been a great year so far, with enough totally nasty noise-punk, celestial synth abstractions, back to basics house bangers and wacked-out industrial techno (among other things) to keep my head spinning… but one of my favorite releases of the year hearkens back to those halcyon days of 2008, before “dubstep” was a dirty word.
Kevin Martin‘s first album as THE BUG since 2008’s revolutionary London Zoo still bears a lot of the calling cards of what people meant by dubstep back in the pre-Skrillex era, but don’t let that put you off. Angels & Devils is a dizzying, dystopic, ever-shifting merger of ambient, grime, industrial, ragga, hip-hop, dub and so much more. It perfectly synthesizes so many aspects of what modern music should be in 2014. And it is HEAVY. You can straight up mosh to most of the second half, spin kicks and everything.
As the title Angels & Devils suggests, the album has two sides: in its first half you get smoothed out, dubby, dreamy (but still discomfiting) tracks featuring guest spots from GROUPER‘s Liz Harris and HYPE WILLIAMS’ copeland, among others. The second half is angry, violent and noisy as all get-out and features a truly vulgar assist from MC Ride of DEATH GRIPS which, in an album with so many bangers, actually comes across as maybe the record’s weakest tune.
Martin has always been big on collaboration, working with luminaries from all across the musical spectrum including Justin Broadrick, Alec Empire, John Zorn and Blixa Bargeld. But the standout collaborators here are the ones who are holdovers from London Zoo. You just can’t top the vocals Martin gets out of Flowdan and Warrior Queen and their furious, confrontational contributions are the album’s standouts for me.
Angels & Devils retains the political edge of its predecessor, but with a more universal tone, giving up the bleakness of the inner city London experience for a more global (but no less bleak) perspective. The lyrics don’t even need to convey this, as the aesthetics and mood do a perfectly fine job of it on their own. Sounds and textures clash and merge like cultures thrust together by an increasingly small world, fighting for relevance while at the same time examining the paranoia and the struggle to find the signal among the noise in our self-imposed online surveillance state.
Six years is a long time to wait, but to have a follow-up to London Zoo which doesn’t let down the faithful but rather contemporizes and updates the things which made that record so special it’s completely worth it. Provided society doesn’t collapse completely in the interim, I can’t wait to hear what he gives us in 2020.
Angels & Devils is available now from Ninja Tune.