Calyx & Teebee were always at their best when they challenged the fate-laden questions of life and abysses of the soul. ‘Make Your Choice’ was what the knowing voice said in the same-named track of their 2007 debut album (and classic) Anatomy, before the shattered bass construct laid upon our Atlas ears. Well, the choice is made, in sombre glory All Or Nothing stands before us, the probably most severe drum & bass album ever made. But let’s not be frightened of the seemingly prevalent minor mood, for this album has a lot more to offer than just acoustic quests for meaning and musical existentialism.
Some of the readers might already be familiar with my discontent concerning opening tracks, and Heroes & Villains, All Or Nothing’s flag-bearer, massively contributes to the elevation of my eyebrow with its dreamy guitar chords and analogue synth-carpets – initially. But just as my mind’s eye shudders at the sight of a laughing ram and the subconscious starts to produce those long repressed hours of terror under the vinyl-aegis of Andy C -body already in full turtle mode- the track catapults itself out of this porno-dystopia right into a straightforward Calyx & Teebee riff of complex bass entanglements and groove, leaving all trace of surplus mid-skirmish and emotional embellishment behind. Indeed, I nurture a -as I like to think of it- healthy suspicion about Ram, but two minutes gone and I’m all trust.
Thankfully, the knights of twostep keep up that spirit, and none of the 12 tracks altogether falls prey to any kind of concession, whilst not exhausting in repetition either. The following Pure Gold for instance features -apart from the tireless nostalgic Kemo- the nasal thickness of a double bass embodied into the latent techstep fabric, and thus not only lyrically inspires remembrance of the (supposedly) golden age of Roni Size’s Brown Paper Bag. Naturally, the duo won’t stop at a rearrangement of old sounds, as one can witness with the upcoming Skank, which genuinely combines past and future to an outstanding bridge-music between the worlds while transferring Beethoven’s sterling scheme of theme and variation unto the play with monstrous bass waves.
Expectedly, the Foreign Beggars are aboard too, and never have I heard them more solemn than on We Become One, a wicked frequency surf with occasional Gameboy sound particles. However, concerning the following Elevate This Sound (which has been issued as a single already) it appears a mere prelude: The fifth track, through which we are guided by Calyx’s deep and enjoyable voice, may safely be assumed to be the album’s heart and core. Seldom, if ever, were so few ingredients -a round and simple bass, straight, subtle drums and percussions, a gentle nexus of fragile melodies- forged to form such a delicate vibe that prototypically exceeds the sum of its parts and postulates a virtually transcendent frame of reference for the subsequent tunes. Now we have reached the level of expression, where every sound seems to tell its tale, and an almost classical sobriety and graveness reigns over the filters, and the view from the reverberatory room reveals nothing but Mordor’s gloom. We Fall Away and Scavenger (which has also been released before) are the heralds of these tragic prospects, and especially the rare rays of light that tear the latter’s murky aether intensify the atmosphere far beyond the point where language fails and ‘cineastic’ is the desperate writer’s last stronghold. Yet finally, when Calyx takes up the microphone again for the beautiful Strung Out, and the line ‘Now I’ve got to sing this song’ not only textually bonds the song to Led Zeppelin’s evergreen Ramble On; then a circle is truly complete. But what a circle…
The album is not over at this point though, and for the successive You’ll Never Take Me Alive they even recruited the fantastic Beardyman. But that sounds better than it actually is, for especially the vagueness of what beyond the dispensable screams (that very much interfere with All Or Nothing’s general austerity) is actually creditable to the guy with less beard than one would expect, makes the track rather negligible. The same accounts for the following Starstruck and Back & Forth, which are not actually bad tracks, but definitely need the biosphere of an album. In the context of the almost one hour playtime however, this sounding of different depths is thoroughly desirable and well woven into the whole.
The album concludes with my personal favourite, the old school anthem Nothing I Can Say, which once more states what Calyx & Teebee stand for, and what they produce throughout this album: music, ruthlessly devoted to the suspense of contradiction, that steers into the future well aware of its past. In this apparent antagonism and its features lies the magic of this music (or at least I believe so), and probably the root of the feeling as well, that Calyx & Teebee are really aspiring to express something. But even without the meta level, All or Nothing remains a magnificent piece of art, whose unparalleled depth one can hardly escape.
Calyx & Teebee – All Or Nothing (Ram Records) – http://soundcloud.com/ramrecords/sets/rammlp15-calyx-teebee-all-or-1/
Roni Size / Reprazent – Brown Paper Bag (Mercury, 1997) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwI0gbGEyuI
Glenn Gould – Ludwig van Beethoven : 32 Variationen in C-Moll, WoO 80 (1806) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVrUaiL2gz8
Led Zeppelin – Ramble On (Atlantic, 1969) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdiN0sW-wVU
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