London-based producer Jim Coles, better known as Om Unit, has unleashed a lean and no-frills effort with “Torchlight Vol. 1”. Pieces surge along in sporadic bursts of percussion and dubstep wobbles. Production is minimalistic, with the main thread of consistency being frenetic drum machine patterns – indeed, that’s the only thing here that’s a given. Otherwise, the record veers off into all sorts of unpredictable and uncharted sonic territory.
Creatively, Coles adheres to his background in jungle and drum & bass, but even within these electronic confines, he is able to uncover an intriguing variety of sounds. It is at once robotic and cold, counterbalanced against flashes of soul and nature. Within a short time, we are taken by the hand and jostled along through a medley of disparate styles and genres. And despite this, it manages to feel familiar, whilst still pushing against the boundaries of what we might expect.
Opener “Wagonist Riddim” exemplifies the dubstep-infused sensibilities of the EP, but with a staccato, almost jazz-inspired feel. Vocal samples and rapid snare loops create the feeling of a deconstructed jungle track. But there are no old school funk samples, and it doesn’t quite give off the kinetic, MDMA-fueled vibe of being in a warehouse rave.
Rather, it’s something more thoughtful and contemplative. It feels more in sync with some vision of a desolate future, where there are only distant echoes of the raw and unchecked energy you once knew.
However, once the slow burn of the opening track has passed, the record reminds us that the energy is still here – to an extent. The second and third tracks return us to something relatively more danceable, while still stubbornly refusing to give us something that we’ve heard before.
“Spiritwerk” is stripped down D&B, leaving behind enough of the raw fundamentals for it to still be recognisable. There are the rhythmic bass stabs and ululating vocal melodies, although its more like world music than Pendulum. The hard driving kicks and snares have been trimmed down, intermittently nestled between frantic bursts of tribal percussion. “Midnight Oil” continues in this vein, staying detached and dispassionate. Sections of the track are broken up with the odd reggae sample.
The real standout, however, is probably “The Lake” – evoking the most ambient and atmospheric sounds on the entire EP. It’s the most deliberate sounding track too, and feels far less bound to any usual D&B production techniques. And while Coles provides hints of layered soundscapes in his other tracks, it’s really here that it reaches full fruition. The digital version of the EP comes with a bonus track (“Demons Out”), which again continues the textured production and vaguely sinister undertones of “The Lake”.
Now, if all the ten-dollar words I’ve used in this review are an indication of anything, then it’s of the mindset you should adopt when listening to this record. It forgoes the hyperactive and full-blooded energy of its stylistic predecessors. But what it does do is employ the tools of drum & bass to create something something subtle and thought-provoking. Maybe even original.
Hometown: London, England
Latest EP: Torchlight Vol. 1, released 31 July 2015
Sounds Like: The Prodigy, The Knife, Arca
Say What? The name “Om Unit” is a reference to “om”, a sacred Sanskrit syllable to refer to energy becoming matter, while “unit” refers to a single thing or person.
Over and out, Darren.