On King Deluxe, Jonny Wildey's album gets truly glitched-up, but who's in control – the producer or the genre?
The temptation when a genre is defined by a simple trait is for the artist to focus on the characteristics of the genre rather than to innovate with its form. Alphabet's Heavens' 2009 breakthrough track Kaxa showcased Johnny Wildey as an urban, soulful producer whose restrained use of the sonic glitch worked wonders against JoD's scratchy vocal, with a luscious bass groove underpinning the tune's momentum. Wildey's trademark glitches integrated into the song – disorienting, syncopated – but in a studied, organic way. Now, with Jay's Odyssey, has Wilder developed his sound?
Where Jay's Odyssey falls short is in its over-dependence on the glitch technique to the detriment of other, more noteworthy aspects of his composition. There are some fine moments. Wildey's beats are often exceptional – on Laaazerrrs, broken snare fills and a compressed bassline combine with distressed vocal samples in a relentless build – the result is utterly compelling. Jo D's vocals return on Elizabeth which, against eloquent beats, channels the spirit of 90s rave anthems.
Then there are the awkward, undeveloped moments. Devil's solid bassline propels the track through some icy, sterile textures, but whilst the glitches have a definite function – rhythmically counterpointing an erudite kick-drum rhythm – the overall aesthetic of the tune is disjointed. Sonic dissonance is a mainstay of glitch, but to deconstruct melodies and create discord depends upon a more solid understanding of harmony than Wildey displays here. There are times when the album sounds like a ketamine survivor stabbing at the mute button on The Orb's Pomme Fritz or Massey-era 808 State stems. On Squuaares though, he gets it right. With an underlying melodic drive strong enough to survive glitch's disjointed comping, the technique becomes a valid songwriting tool. Where it is overbearing though, is in the clash between vocals and percussion on Woman and the self-indulgent cut-sample-comp-pan-fade confusion of Blue Garden and Walk On. Frank is the track most likely to draw attention. It is, initially, bold and confident songwriting with a solid rhythmic narrative and intriguing textures. Alas, the clever-clever dissonance is wheeled out again mid-way through, to less than glorious effect. Discord within a song is a legitimate atmospheric effect, but needs to display more aplomb than playing single clashing notes in sequence. This would have been the perfect place to really use the disorienting effects of a well-integrated glitch, but the opportunity is missed. Instead we get a poor approximation of Thelonius Monk and yet more rough work with the panning and volume faders.
A few high-points then, amongst a collection which is too spread-out in its moments of quality to really function as the sonic and sensual journey that an album should be. Jay's Odyssey tries too hard to be part of a movement. Whether that movement is London glitch-hop or LA beats is irrelevant – fans of either scene will appreciate the album for its on-trend immediacy. Wildey's over-concentration on the quirks and defining traits of his chosen genre is his weakness though, and the textured melodies he uses as the raw materials for his quirky deconstructions are too often weak and derivative.
Additional information on Alphabet's Heaven, including an album preview can be found here
Kaxa appears on Nightmares on Wax presents Wax On Records, Vol.3