Chase & Status: More Than Alot
The vast majority of releases that come through the ET.com basement doors are of the technologically-enhanced, ethnic sort. After all, we consider it our higher-power given mission to spread the gospel of Indian/Asian/Global left-field electronica far and wide. Once in a very long while an album that does not fit one of those tags lands in our hands and makes us sit up and take notice. It's rare but it happens.
After almost a year of sub-par artist albums, our faith in drum n' bass, and electronica in general, was on the wane. The much awaited follow-up to Hold Your Colour by the mighty Pendulum was a disaster in every sense of the word. The world's only drum n' bass superstars had delivered an album of what can only be described as watered-down, breakbeat pop pandering to your typical college-radio listening bloke. Never had the phrase 'sophomore slump' been more appropriate. Dubstep - that evolution of grime, two-step and drum n'bass - was, and still is, what all the more discerning dn'b heads were listening to instead. It's dark, exciting, edgy and delivered that bass fix missing in most urban music. Other than a few underground producers, Ram Records and Hospital Recordings remain the sole surviving bastions of drum n' bass. Hospital delivered the immaculate Tough Guys Don't Dance by High Contrast in late 2007 that brought back the softer, more lush, liquid drum n' bass that was home-listening friendly. The gaping hole in the darker sound of the genre left by Pendulum remained to be filled. Ram Records, by way of Saul Milton and Will Kennard - a British production duo known as Chase & Status - have come through in a big way for the very future of drum n' bass.
The boys first flew into our radar with their treatment of Capleton's dancehall anthem "Duppy Man". The drum n' bass/ragga mashup got many a rewind by the world's leading DJs. But to restrict labeling of their debut album to drum n' bass would be impertinent of us. Their personal "take on where the UK dance music scene - the best in the world - is at right now" (according to a recent interview with trackitdown.net prior to the album's release), More Than Alot moves in the area between drum n' bass, dubstep and hip-hop without compromising one bit.
In an album stacked with a set of the year's best tracks, it's almost impossible to pick favorites. "Eastern Jam" has quickly become the signature Chase & Status tune even though it falls squarely in the dubstep field. Being championed by BBC Radio One's Bobby Friction & Nihal as well as Nerm, on their respective shows, has given it anthemic status among those that like their underground dance music on the Eastern tip. It takes the biggest of the Indian sub-continent's exports, Bollywood, and a sample of "Silsila Yeh Chaahat Ka" from the hit Devdas and builds the darkest dubstep wobble and bassline around it. Strangest choice of sample for a dark electronic tune? Perhaps, but also clearly our choice for track of the year. Chase & Status could have had anyone of their picking for vocals on the album but instead they went with largely underground artists, Plan B, Kano, Takura and Digga. Plan B, often called the British Eminem, does his best jaded, emo impression with his guitar on "Pieces" before the jump-up drum n' bass drop kicks in.
Also in the strange, but hey-it-works category, is "Running" - what can only be described as Michael McDonald (yup, that "Ya Mo Be There" guy) sampling, 80's synth-pop/dubstep crossover. Unless Kanye is about to hit us with a rap-bhangra-techno jam on his upcoming 808s & Heartbreak, you will not hear a crazier blend of genres anytime soon. To say it's creative and original would not be giving Chase & Status enough credit for this masterful piece of music. "Hurt You", with its kick-drum stomp, is a full-on drum n' bass roller that needs to be in the crate of every jungle DJ.
While those are just the favorites, the rest of the tracks do as much for providing an insight into urban British dance music and culture (check "Streetlife" and "Against All Odds") as anything that came before it. Well done boys. You have made the definitive British album, dance or otherwise, for 2008. Whether or not you decide to go down the path of some of your other contemporaries on album number 2 remains to be seen. But one thing's for certain - More Than Alot is going down in history. After all, you got us to review it.