REVIEW: Alex B – Moments

Colorado-based beatmaker, Alex B, came to prominence last year when he provided a very popular mix for Flying LotusBrainfeeder collective. Since then, he’s teased us with more original creations, supplied mixes elsewhere, and also contributed a track to Jus Like Music & Apple Juice Break present: Oscillations. But the wait is over – Alex B‘s hotly anticipated debut full-length is out right now on his own Elm and Oak imprint, and it’s called Moments.

Moments is a collection of 17 beautifully crafted tracks, many no longer than two and a half minutes long, but all absolutely incredible. Alex B most definitely has his own distinctive sound, plus his production techniques are exquisite, but what is really pleasing about this album is how easily the sound shimmies from electronica to instrumental hip-hop to downtempo neo-soul to fully blown rap and back again. In theory, this is something that should sound chaotic and disjointed, but the reality instead sees a very complete sounding record hit the ears.

Tracklisting:

01. At Channel One
02. Pad 5
03. Hot Chop
04. You And I Both Know
05. Nothing Is Always Something
06. Kick Drones
07. Talk It Out
08. Clicking Away
09. Getting To Know You
10. Show Me
11. Drip Splatter
12. Waste
13. Hide Extension
14. Impressions
15. Standing On Me
16. Seriously Again ?!?!
17. Timing Correct

At Channel One is the perfect introduction to Alex B’s sound as it emphasises his connection with jazz, hip-hop and electronica – all in varying ways and to varying levels. Not that a comparison is particularly necessary, but it sounds like a laid back Harmonic 313 ate a Dimlite filled pie! That’s all very tenuous though really – just know that the beats are crisp and heavy, and the electronic sounds are pure. The record continues onwards with the steady head-nodder, Pad 5, and ultra-heavy Hot Chop with it’s gritty claustrophobia. Hot Chop is actually a really apt name for the track, you can almost feel the bass hits reverberating off the walls as the sweat drips off your back.

mp3: Alex B – Hot Chop

The track You And I Both Know has to be one of the best tracks I’ve heard all year. It comprises of, what initially seems like, such simple components, but in truth it’s a very fine blend of semi-acoustic samples, a heavy beat and precisely placed electronic cuts. Those are just the components though. Alex B then layered and arranged them all to create something with a real melody and soul. That is what I think places Alex B above many of his contemporaries at the moment, his ability to take his tracks to a level at which they become fully-fledged song creations, with all the life and soul a listener yearns for from a song. Nothing Is Always Something is born of the same cloth, yet exchanges some of the fierce bass elements for more delicate, progressive sounds.

Kick Drones suddenly hits you with an emcee, but it’s more of a pleasant surprise than a shock. It’s only 49 seconds long and acts as a precursor to the wonderful Talk It Out, with its hints of Flying Lotus set to a very soothing melody and trippy beat. It genuinely makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, and to such a degree that I wonder if my words can really do it enough justice. The bass returns on Clicking Away, the track you can briefly hear on the Moments teaser trailer. Again, there’s evidence of this balance between bass and intricate sounds – like something so raw and heavy shouldn’t sound so elegant, but… it does, and it sounds amazing. This bridges into one of my favourite Alex B tracks, Getting To Know You, which showcases the only appearance of a female vocalist on the album. It’s worth noting at this point that we’ve made our way from heavy electronic beats, to hip-hop and now downtempo vocal tracks, but you wouldn’t realise it too much without first being prompted – it’s a smooth transition. Getting To Know You builds subtly and gradually, nothing is over done or forced, but instead it bides its time. Absolutely alluring, particularly towards the end when it shifts up a gear.

Breaking back into more instrumental hip-hop territory, Show Me, is a two-minute long killer of a track which lays focus on multiple electronic layers over a steady beat. Drip Splatter is tripped out with the presence of an emcee once more – slick rhymes over chords proves for mean results indeed. This then bridges into the hypnotic Waste, embedded with plenty of sinister dread before dropping into Hide Extension, a track that feels like a sort of homage to spaced out trip-hop in a way. Impressions continues the hypnotic theme, although strips things right back towards more of a dub feel – real steady, bass-heavy beats. Albeit subtle, there are a lot of emotional undertones present on this album. It’s never heavy beats for the sake of heavy beats – as melodies and feeling are never compromised, and I think to therefore get such fantastic results is totally admirable.

Standing On Me is pure filth! The bassline is ridiculous and could well strip the paint off your walls. Let me know if that does actually happen. The penultimate track is Seriously Again ?!?!, which contains a sense of eeriness amidst its off-kilter beat and string accompaniment. But just when you think that’s it, it pops up with a classy piano melody to offset the natural left-field nature of the track. Timing Correct acts as the finale to a fine, fine album. One for all you synth-heads out there!  Smooth and steady, it softly builds to a gradual crescendo on what is a brilliant array of songs.

As is plain to see, I think a lot of this album, in fact it’s definitely one of the best albums of the year. But, what really leaves me in awe is Alex B’s ability to create beautiful songs out of what could easily be electronic chaos. Whether it’s alternative hip-hop or dubstep, there are a lot of producers out there who are just chucking heavy basslines over crazy electronic samples with no real consideration for their track’s construction and then putting them out there. Some of them sound ok for the first couple of listens, but there’s no longevity and that’s because they aren’t ‘complete’ songs, they lack soul. What Alex B has done is to take lots of careful consideration into every element of his tracks, devised stanzas and created melodies to give his tracks a proper purpose and life. It might take a couple of listens to Moments for the penny to drop, but I think most open-minded listeners would at some stage agree that this album is a bit special.