Welcome to the space between dubstep and harsh electronic noise. It’s not a completely
bad place to be, depending on your escort through this strange land. Cloaks have a few things going for them—the dub rhythms are strong and I’m finding the beats digging their hooks into my feet with ease, forcing me to tap along (maybe this is the draw of dubstep). Even though everything is drenched in analog overdrive and feedback, sweet-sounding samples still surface from time to time, giving me that warm feeling not unlike the one I felt when first hearing any of my favorite jungle artists go to town with the amen break. The samples are difficult to make out on account of the noised-out aspect, but maybe that helps to create something even more unique for Cloaks. Overall I’m digging the production and sound, but something is also missing—I’m having a hard time getting completely into the ‘hell yes’ frame with this. I feel it trying to move me in that direction, but for some reason I’m not getting there. But ah, the distortion—it makes “Versus Grain” worth hearing at least once.
There maybe is something deeper than “Versus Grain” that I need to hash out. I’ve never been a huge fan of the dubstep genre, with a few rare exceptions (definitely not
including Burial’s “Untrue”, a total snoozer for me personally). Cloaks here are taking dubstep over a new horizon, and the results for me are a mixed-bag. On one hand, we have some tracks like “Rust on Metal”, where the dubstep rhythm is not instantly perceivable; it takes some time for the beats to surface, and even when they do, everything is so drenched in some kind of high-frequency envelope filter that what stands out is are the tones within the track, not the beats beneath. The track “#00162” is maybe totally opposite—it’s heavily percussive and in terms of synth tones, it’s only iterating one throbbing tone throughout. But that tone is so powerful and sexy-sounding, it saves the track—well it’s also redeemed by the totally rad intro which includes some blown out hat-riddim undergoing serious frequency sweeps. The final track, “Detritu” is just bathed in this subtle crumpling static, pushing the track into success. The distortion is so rich in texture you can’t help but love it. The hat and snare sounds are almost indecipherable from one another, on account of the frequency tweaking and distortion—utter destruction into the noise realm, and a real good move from these guys. OK—so the conclusion I’m coming to here is that “Versus Grain” is rich with gnarly synthesizer sounds, tweaked to the max under the influence of distorted, overdriven effects and hard frequency manipulation. But we haven’t addressed that other
hand yet—the bad side. Let me make just a brief attempt at an unfounded and ridiculously opinionated explanation.
Dubstep is by nature pretty boring. I realize that it is very popular right now (though maybe its popularity is in decline—I really do not know). Cloaks should have made “Versus Grain” a gabber record, though I realize also that people have been cutting blown-out noise gabber and ragga for a while now, so perhaps taking this album down the dubstep path was simply a matter of breaking new ground. With the ripe, chunky analog synth sounds that are oozing like condensed yellow pus out of every crevice of this album, and the harsh noise filter applied at the epidermis, I want things to move at a faster pace. The overdriven tones have got me in the mood, and I need some higher BPMs to get me over that hill—dubstep tempo will not do it for me.
Cloaks have exhibited some capacity for tickling the ear with “Versus Grain”, but unfortunately they are playing to what I consider to be a fad crowd in electronic music. I suppose this album is a product of the time in which it was recorded and released. If this were made in 2001, it very likely would be more of the gabber nature. I suppose then that maybe I’m a bit behind the times, or maybe dubstep really is objectively boring. In any case, I’m ready for a jungle revival and I don’t see much good coming from the marriage of noise and any drum machine set to such a low BPM. 6/10 -- Michael Jantz (5 August, 2009)