Album Review | Photek | Ku:Palm + mp3

Photek Productions 

bass \ bãs \ adj  + house \haus \ n + chill•out \ chil-aût \ vb

It's hard to take in all the musical faces of Rupert Parkes. Held up alongside names like Roni Size and Goldie, his early work as Photek is pioneering stuff in the world of drum 'n' bass. The other end of this spectrum is film score work that he's done for The Italian Job (the remake), Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and his Grammy-nominated remix for Daft Punk, a chunky mid tempo techno rerub of "End of the Line" from the Tron: Legacy soundtrack. To say the least, Parkes has versatile chops.

Returning to his Photek guise after a lengthy hiatus, he's had a brilliantly productive 12 months, all of which culminated at the end of last month with Ku:Palm, his first full length in more than a decade. His work with U.K. bass man Pinch on cuts like "M25FM" and the selections across his installment in the DJ-KiCKS series earlier this year, go a long way to painting an auditory picture of where Parkes is at these days musically: There's a lot more house, a healthy number of bass-music excursions and very little that resembles the d&;b that launched his career with '97s Modus Operandi. That said, the Photek spirit remains completely in tact. As an artist continuing to champion atmospheric, deep and jazzy vibes in a largely post-drum 'n' bass world, he's freed himself from those breaks shackles and evolved considerably as an artist.

The rolling drum shuffle of "Pyramid" could almost be mistaken for opening drumming of "The Hidden Camera," the track that leads of Modus Operandi, but it never quite evolves into that signature jungle rhythm. Instead it opts for an Indian-inflected moody groove that displays a mastery for drum programming on par with what made peak-era Jazzanova so compelling. There's no trace of a drum machine in those syncopated polyrhythms. Moving along with a drunken swagger it simultaneously recalls the vintage smokey downtempo of an Thievery Corporation and the contemporary smokey beats of Cali crews like Brainfeeder and Frite Nite. "Pyramid" has that type of timeless quality to it. 

Back in 2000, Photek's Solaris was already hinting at a shift into 4/4 territory and that's more fully realized here with tracks like "Aviator," which sees him settled into the thick and deep style that's characterized a lot of his recent output. Fans of his DJ-KiCKS will be appreciative. On it, he sounds like he's shopping a track to Belgium's Eskimo label. Later, on  "One of a Kind," which features fellow bass man Breakage, he's lacing big four-on-the-floor beats with soulful vocals, breaking fully into house turf. This is a scene-wide trend that's not been lost on Photek from his perch in LA, and while the exploration is respectable, he's better off meeting somewhere in the middle, like when he reconstitutes a gritty acid bassline into the chugging "Mistral" or on "Oshun" where he imparts the haunting synth atmospherics and prickly, stuttered style of melody that would typically color up dark breaks or a half-time stomp instead to a techno beat. Parkes feels more natural here, benefiting from house and techno's potent kicks but overhauling it with his space-age cool.

His soundtrack experience also comes through, for better and for worse. Though the Ku:Palm is elegant sonically, opening tracks like "Signals" and "Quadrant" lack personality in a way much of his d&b work did not. They seem like instrumental background tracks that never found their way onto the silver screen; they don't have enough personality to stand alone. This is more than made up for on a cut like "Shape Change," which resembles "Signals" or "Quadrant" in form, but comes off more fully realized, hearkening back to his drum 'n' bass days while also acknowledging the influence of a younger artist like DJG, who featured so prominently on his DJ-KiCKS. Then there are Ku:Palm's boldest stand-outs, the soulful dubstep numbers "Sleepwalking" which adopts a slight dub tint and album closer "This Love." The record's only two vocal cuts, they represent Photek's most striking move away from the subtle liquid sound he's praised for, but these too are worthy of praise, as is Ku:Palm as a whole. Parkes is branching out more than ever here, and while some aren't as sturdy as others, an artist of Photek's caliber can't grow if he doesn't take chances. 

— Joshua P. Ferguson

DOWNLOAD: Photek " Pyramid" | 320 mp3


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