Pye Corner Audio – Dark Phase EP

4 out of 5

Label: Analogical Force

Produced by: Martin Jenkins

Having heard positive rumblings regarding electronic artist Pye Corner Audio – Martin Jenkins – for years, I did a lot of assumptions-by-association (the source of the rumblings; touring partners) and never made much of an effort to listen to their work. On occasions when something would pass me by, that made it easier to let it pass me by, not hearing much of distinction.

PCA’s Dark Phase EP, their second release on Analogical Force, became my first dedicated listen to one of their works. While I collect the label, it’s not necessarily an automatic stamp of quality, since AF is guilty of putting out some showpieces that are more flashy than anything; Pye isn’t flashy, but I suspected this might be a big “get” for the imprint, and my initial go-round of the EP aligned with all of the hand-waiving assumptions I’d previously applied: nothing special; what are these kids on about; etc.

But as I’m obligated to do, being a super important, presumably universally recognized, probably award-winning, online reviewer, I decided to give Dark Phase a few more spins. It wasn’t bad, after all, just predictable to my ears, though still pleasant, housey bounce. And it’s only four tracks. So I put on some headphones, and dove in.

…And, right. At least for this release, I get it.

Jenkins produces tracks where patience rewards. There are some creators I praise for their mastering of simplicity; some for the way they evolve a track. Jenkins navigates somewhere between these styles, which is where the ‘modern Drexciya’-type descriptions of their work comes into play. The beats are very accessible, following a build and release pattern that’s instantly recognizable, and working in a pleasant BPM range that’s never sleepy, never too aggressive, and emotionally variable enough to work as mood music or for dancing. But Dark Phase follows, fittingly, a slightly darker plane, and Jenkins takes his time to massage things there, enhancing his core beats slowly, and willing to take some left turns to add some surprise to the grooves, moments where he strips away elements or changes up the rhythm slickly, but in a way that enhances the emotional component of the track in some way. It’s subtle, and when you’re doing your best to not like something, very easy to ignore. But when I gave myself the chance to sink into the music, it’s very effective; the familiarity of the sounds are key to its immersion, and then Jenkins can work his magic.

Opener Storm Cloud feels more like modern acid, but Solar Waves and closer Explorer really nail the blend of Drexciya futurism with a very current electro edge, old school organic-sounding beats blended with a crisp digital vibe. The only track that kind of falls out of the equation is Darktro, which is a pretty straightforward acid jam that’s funky, but not as nuanced as the other offerings. But as the exception to the rest of Dark Phase, I’m certainly convinced to ditch my assumptions, and explore the rest of Pye Corner Audio’s catalogue.