To suggest that Cloud Seed, the newest album by dubstep duo Vex’d, is a turning point in the genre is not an exercise in hyperbole.
To suggest that Cloud Seed, the newest album by dubstep duo Vex’d, is a turning point in the genre is not an exercise in hyperbole. The album helps to refine the style by looking outside its traditional borders (as much as any style of music less than a decade old can be said to have traditions) . From its inception, dubstep seemed to pride itself on disconnection. It was, of course, possible to trace an aesthetic lineage which placed the nascent genre as a sort of great-grandchild of 90s drum-and-bass. Many artists, however, possess such a single-minded attachment to the handful of sonic devices which set the style apart in the first place that their work seems to possess an attitude of willful defiance towards being placed into a linear continuum of genre definition, as if the skipping hi-hats and overpowering bass were as inevitable a by-product of the contemporary urban landscape as smog and blight.
Because dubstep as a genre has spent the past half-decade fighting to define itself, it has reached a plateau where it can work with or against stylistic concepts, a sort of baroque period in which genre constraints are tested and conventions are elaborated upon. Despite the seeming incongruity of being forward-thinking through an atavistic interest in other artistic forms, Vex’d manages to disregard genre purity in favor of a more encompassing stylistic approach. The album, comprised of material intended for an incomplete second album and a handful of remixes, retains a surprising amount of focus, playing like an eclectic and well-sequenced DJ mix rather than a collection of odds and ends. On paper, much of the album’s diversity seems confusing. “Take Time Out,” for example, juxtaposes Warrior Queen’s impassioned dancehall reggae vocal delivery with a mechanical, quasi-industrial lurch of dissonant synthesizer drones, while “Heart Space” performs a similar mutation on Portishead-style trip-hop. “Remains of the Day” and “Shinju Bridge” both possess a gentle ambient drift, while closing track “Nails” is a foray into the sort of distortion-heavy abrasion that Trent Reznor wishes he could come up with. “Disposition,” which features a guest spot by rapper Jest, is an apocalyptic take on hip-hop which abuts a deconstruction of composer John Richards’ “Suite for Piano and Electronics.” Later in the album, a remix of fellow dubstep producer Distance’s “Fallen” is placed next to a darkly cinematic take on Gabriel Prokofiev’s “String Quartet No. 2.” To simply look at those titles and the scope of the source material, it would be easy to write the album off as some sort of postmodern low-brow/high-brow melange, but such an approach undermines the quality of the music and the dexterity in combining influences into a seamless whole displayed by Vex’d.
The placement of the remixes in the album is another notable feature. While many such artists would segregate their reinterpretations to an album’s end, forcing them to play second fiddle to their original material, Vex’d take a different approach by dispersing them throughout the album. This is a telling move, possessing both a sense of bravado (the degree to which they have reclaimed the source material as their own) and humility (the degree to which they place others’ material on par with their own). It is an unconventional approach, but one that serves the totality of the album well as each song is afforded equal importance in the grander scheme of things.
Because so many artists in the dubstep scene seem to be influenced by little other than their peers, there has been a considerable stagnation of the genre in recent years. Because many of the genre’s most notable works toyed with some degree of minimalism, the impression could be conveyed that creation of such works is a simple matter. This idea has led to a glut of releases which are, for lack of a better word, boring. Vex’d, however, exemplify the opposite attitude, utilizing disparate influences and source material to build ever-upward from dubstep’s cornerstones toward something loftier, more diverse, and worthier of repeated listens than the majority of their contemporaries.