Salah - First Step (Sketchy Lines, 2020)
The newly formed Brussels based label oversees this superb 6 tracker from co-founder Salah, with the music an ode to that timeless late night techno sound along with a hefty dosage of unique twists along the way.
Balancing moods and tempos within a release is always the sign of a explorer, a depth dweller, an individual or group concerned with the concept of flow and sonic creativity. Its a well trodden trope by now that throughout the years has overseen some wonderful records explore the moments between the quiet and reflective and the undeniably bold and turbo charged, a contrast that creates a unparalleled sense of movement through a set of determined yet continually expanding musical experiences. It gives us a chance to go through the music as its presented to us, a journey through the energetic explosions and the sombre immersiveness of the pads and synths, transporting us to ethereal plains before reality hits hard via its rhythmic interactivity. We are dazzled by the spectrum of experiences on display, content to take part in the emotive side of things and also invest in how the music operates within the vastness of a set, imagining a club floor somewhere that moves and shakes to its rhythms. Crafting these kinds of experiences allows for the music to be enjoyed in multiple contexts, be it at home taking in the reflective morning routines or during our most sporadic displays of joy and dance, its records created in this manner that channel themselves into numerous spaces within our consciousness, able to imprint themselves into any context or environment as they see fit. Its not just the overall feel of the tracks that leave a lasting impression, but often the features and textures that dwell deep within are something to truly celebrate, and within today's contemporary musical landscape we see a superb amount of ingenius thought and application go into the music that tends to stick out as somewhat groundbreaking and fresh. We have certainly reached a stage where hybridisation occurs frequently within dance music in particular, and its how certain labels and individuals choose to represent and experiment with these flourishes and meanderings that makes the collectivised sounds move on just that little bit further. We have embarked on that period in time where the movements forward are smaller yet remain as significant as the big steps, as we yearn for music that showcases new ideas, unpredictable formats and compelling audial narratives, in order for the benefit of music loves everywhere and indeed the scenes in which they look to inhibit. Releases in this vein showcase the very best of this hybrid approach, applying a real craft into everything that goes into the music, from the highest ends to the lowest depths, the experience takes in all it can cater for, and we reside somewhere within the mid range, dwelling within a space that looks to soak up as much of the feels as possible, and we are all for it.
With that in mind, we arrive today at the subject of today's review, the debut record from Brussel imprint Sketchy Lines, 'First Step', that comes courtesy of label co-founder Salah, and we couldn't have wished for a stronger start. Whilst not the debut record for Salah - be sure to check out last years self titled EP for very strong dubby and deep techno - here we see the visions and idealism that all labels begin life with come into full effect, with SKL001 moving between various gears as it sets off on its journey to delight and mesmerise in equal measure. Beginning the journey with two slow pace cuts that set the emotive and melodic boundaries with such sublimity, the record then moves through the tempos and stylistic characteristics to craft an experience like no other, with all manner of bases covered in terms of musical feel and content. Seeped in contemporary techno tones and beat structures, there's also nods to ambient, dub techno, acid, breakbeat and even a slight tinge of electro peering through, all of which are blended effortlessly within this highly immersive and intricate record, where each cut gives over to the overall impression and tone of what is to come next. As debuts go, its impeccably realised and expertly executed, with the general feeling being that of a total commitment to the sound which this label will be looking to push in the future. Wide ranging, spectrum inducing and highly refined, it sets the tone perfectly for releases to follow in its footsteps, its broad representation of genres meaning that the boundaries remain far and wide for further experimentation of all kinds to flourish under the Sketchy Lines name. So, without any more delay, lets jump right into this fine record......
First up comes 'Union Spirit', and this one begins within the deep emotive expanses that only highly considered synths can truly capture. The sequence begins with the swelling of the initial chord, which then retreats back in upon itself before expanding once more into our immediate visions, with the dynamics of the arrangement moving through the lines with such force and purpose, like a series of waves lapping at our feet as we stare into the deep expansive blues. The light percussive features align themselves within the right hand side of the picture, adding a gentle rhythmic undertone to proceedings as the keys float and whisper across the wide open expanse, content with moving far and wide in their quest for inner peace and serenity. The flows in which the chordal arrangement finds itself within is both tender and regimented, a flourishing of splendour that relishes in its depth and character, a series of gorgeous tones that do much to paint a vivid picture of utter serenity. The looseness of the feels remain something to behold, a series of fluid transitions that hint at and point to scenes and narratives, and yet it all remains abstract, impressionist rather than realist, creating a space where we feel at one with the imagination and all its glory, realising our boldest fantasies and yet remaining firmly on the ground. We feel elevated to new places, new contexts, new environments which feel recognisable but at the same moment utterly undefinable, a galaxy of colour and textural elements that create a totality in experience, our senses catered for in all manners, totally in tune with the comings and goings of an outstanding piece of music. A very strong start indeed. Up next comes 'Botanic Garden', and this one begins in similarly spaced out territories, but with a new twist. The melodic features open up proceedings but are placed further to the back of the composition, with their transitions kept more subtle as a result, with the foreground seeing all manner of rhythmic noodling taking place as loose congas and other sporadic percussive features whipping up a sense of intensity. A groove begins to emerge as the spaces between become shorter, and before long we move into the fully blown groove, which sees the soft kicks moving the arrangement along as expressive features permeate through on the sides of the audial spectrum. The chords remain very much in the backdrop, keeping their distance from the excellent drumming sequences that flow through our view, with their presence even taking breaks to signal changes in rhythmic densities and drops in energy, with the whole experience amounting to a saunter through the enriching feels of percussive laden excellence. The rhythm is infectious, to the point which we get so involved with all its minor intricacies and movements forward, with total engagement offered as our minds firmly wonder and meander through the many layers on display. Its delicate, its balanced, its simply excellent, and its a groove that could last a lifetime and never tire. Glorious.
Up next comes 'Panorama', and once more we begin in very sparse surroundings, yet all the elements point to the unravelling of something greater. The sporadic percussive features give way to the soft key work that fills up the backdrop with colour, with the drums in front quickly gathering energy but it remains all in the touch and application, rather than the overall density. The light pads signal of something more, and just like that the impeccable kicks come right into view, driving right through the heart of the cut to deliver a pulse like no other, as the other features link arms and quickly follow suit. The sporadic nature of the melodic tones make for compulsive listening, as the other drumming features ring out across the top ends of the track with ease and enthusiasm, as the tune reaches its core momentum with the introduction of the hats and additional cymbals. In full flow its truly something to behold, as the varying elements swell and flux around the consistent pulse, continually striving to give more and do more in a soundscape that provides such flair and feel to the experience, with each feature contributing enormously to the overall presence that the track exudes. The vocal sample couldn't feel any more appropriate, with its hushed and fast paced placement fitting in perfectly with the forward drive, with their presence signalling a movement into the next phase of the track, which dips in energy as the kicks move away before remerging into an intensely dubby affair. The melodic notions are stripped away to focus purely on the percussive loops, with each passing bar adding further intrigue into this cosmic pulse that rings out across the sonics. We simply nod our head along to the momentum, content in its ability to sway and move our minds as much as our bodies, as the groove plays out into the setting sun. Stunning shit. 'Lines' arrives next, and this one starts things off in a very total fashion indeed. The intro sees the kicks arrive with purpose and presence, as the keys wash over the pulsating bass line that moves so intently with the groove, with the drums quickly evolving to include a well considered hi hat line. The swinging nature of the track is added to with the introduction of the light conga sounds that ripple through the sub base, with the percussive complexity growing with each passing second as further lines look to occupy the mid section of the cut. Once more its the little things that keep our engagement levels up, helping to maintain a level of intrigue which only grows as further elements are added, such as the gorgeous chordal stabs that arrive through the mid section, their flavour and texture just so right within the sea of swelling sound. The track reaches its first climax as the drums kick out for a moment before the cut then builds itself up from the ground, with the layers continually growing as time passes by with familiar features and new drumming patterns making for yet another dub laden excursion. There's time for one final flow through a melodic laden section, as singular notes ring true across the entirety of the audial spectrum with such purpose, as we say farewell to a deeply moving experience indeed. Stunning.
Up next comes 'Slow Down', and the manner in which this track unravels is highly contrary to the title. The cut begins with the cascading synth lines and cosmos aligned key sequences, all of which begin to move and flow together as the drum progressions come into view, with the electro/DnB style swing upped in tempo significantly to give a solid as hell bedrock to the momentum moving onwards and upwards. The result of all this is highly infectious, providing us with such a energy injection that we transcend slightly, and the breakdown begins almost as soon as that conjuring has occurred, with the acid line arriving very soon after as the chords and synths move away. The pause in energy leads right into a change in mood but not tempo, as the gears switch up very quickly indeed to provide us with another explosion of energy, and to pull that off within not just one song but a number is seriously impressive. The choppy movement between differing percussive structures is fluid and seamless, allowing for the slight changes in features to really play into the progression superbly, as Salah manipulates the acid line and bass sequence constantly as times flies past. That sequence will be stuck in our minds for a good while yet. There's time for one final glide through the subscapes, and that comes in the form of 'Get Out', which turns the screws right from the off. The out there key lines quickly align themselves with the fast paced drum structures, with the melodic presence menacing and all encompassing as we slide through the light filled skies of some imagined urban cityscape, unable to pick out one individual illumaire from the other as we cruise by at break neck speed. The track takes a moment to pause for a moment as we reach the first breakdown, where the sweeping chords retreat for a moment in order to give space for the acid line to do its thing, with those sweet sweet Detroit Techno style key licks drilling through the mid section of the groove. Its highly effective as a sub section, operating deep within the crevasses of our frontal lobes as it keeps going on and on, never failing in its trajectory into the never reaches of the consciousness. And like that, we are swept off our feet and land in some far away land, happy to remain so we can lap up everything this record has to offer. A true pearl, this one.
To craft such mood, such depth, such atmosphere, is a sign of a producer very much in control of their craft, and its something Salah does continually on this highly impressive record. An EP that is full of beautiful progressions and switches in mood, Salah guides us through the cosmic landscapes imprinted in our minds through 6 cuts of exceptional quality, all of which blend melodic sensibilities with incredible beat structures to craft experiences that are inherently deep and undeniably groovy. Never for one moment do you feel ignored, or unengaged, you simply float along to the undertones that bind it all, skip to the rhythms that flourish and multiply with such confidence, and move mentally to the emotions that unravel on top of it all. There's so much to celebrate and revel in here, and we are so so excited to see what might flow out of the Sketchy Lines camp next. A real winner, and one of the finest debuts you will hear all year.
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