Djrum :: Plantain / What I Was Doing When I Was Doing What I Was Doing EP (Samurai Red Seal)

The single most apt diction I’ve ever seen in music journalism was the description of Djrum’s work as “panoramic.” The man’s sound is all-encompassing in scope. Also contained in this idea is the notion of musical narrative: not only is a lush primeval landscape unfurled, every one of his releases has a storybook quality that evokes a literary sojourn complete with climax and denouement.

Djrum :: Plantain / What I Was Doing When I Was Doing What I Was Doing EP

Perhaps one of, if not the worst thing involved in writing about music is somehow, some way, cooking up inevitably hackneyed adjectives to describe something as enigmatic and emotionally unfixed as sound. Every label, from the homegrown to the industry flagships, accompany each release with a blurb that is more or less guaranteed to produce cringes eventually. Every review and discussion will always find itself locked in a struggle to convey the impossible, aiming for a target moving at near relativistic speeds. In light of this accepted trade difficulty, it is with no small amount of gravity that I claim the single most apt diction I’ve ever seen in music journalism was the description of Djrum’s work as “panoramic.” The man’s sound is all-encompassing in scope. Also contained in this idea is the notion of musical narrative: not only is a lush primeval landscape unfurled, every one of his releases has a storybook quality that evokes a literary sojourn complete with climax and denouement. His debut album Seven Lies displayed this writing acumen marvelously, weaving an intricate audible story across its entire length. Since Seven Lies he has been focusing on working the same process into individual songs, producing epics nearing or over ten minutes in length that stand as novellas in their own right. His latest release containing the singles “Plantain” and “What I Was Doing When I Was Doing What I Was Doing” continues this trend and is one of if not his strongest works to date.

The first chapter of “Plantain” opens with Djrum’s trademark use of haunting string and vocal samples, setting the stage for what can only be an arduous and hazard wrought journey. As tension builds, what is introduced next is one of the most punishing passages in his discography—intensely rapid breaks take turns trading blows with a sparse sub bass. The two concepts build momentum with each pass, urging each other upwards. Eventually an apex is reached where the walls fold away and the music shifts towards the syncopated kicks and late fourth bar claps that were the hallmark of his previous EP The Miracle while fading out to glossy bell punctuation.

“What I Was Doing When I Was Doing…” is a very distinct number, both from its immediate predecessor and Djrum’s catalog as a whole. The beat structure here bears a lot of resemblance to the characteristic amen break of drum and bass, but in an understated light that’s almost impossible to easily describe. It’s almost as if the break is present but cannot be directly observed, only inferred from the resulting shadow it creates. As backing synths continuously pitch up and down, the beat undergoes two more permutations that are in much more familiar territory. This one is definitely a new beast and takes a few listens to fully understand and appreciate. There was some speculation that the release of these singles on Samurai Red Seal, while almost all of his previous work came out on 2nd Drop, announced a gravitation towards a more drum & bass centered sound. This track seems to paradoxically confirm yet deny this prediction. Highly recommended.

Plantain / What I Was Doing When I Was Doing What I Was Doing is available on Samurai Red Seal. [Bandcamp] [12″ on Juno].

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