Paul Rose has undoubtedly proved himself to be one of the great dance music triple threats of the moment. He’s flexed his mighty A&R muscle at Hotflush, which in the past year helped launched the careers of next-gen buzz magnets like Mount Kimbie and Joy Orbison. (His forward-thinking Sub:stance nights at the Berghain have surely bubbled up from a similar impulse.) He’s emerged as one of the world’s most impressively dexterous DJs (see his Sub:stance mix or, better yet, his latest podcast for RA for proof), dropping dubstep and 4/4 with equally sure hands. And bass sides as Scuba and a recent foray into techno as SCB have been among the underground’s most beloved records as of late.
But you might make the argument that production isn’t the man’s strongest hand; at the very least, you’ve sensed he had more in him than he was pressing to wax. For all of its craft, both at a sonic level and as a larger music suite, the synthesis of his early production career, Scuba’s 2008 LP A Mutual Antipathy, felt transitional — the sound of an artist unsure how to reconcile his Warp records and metal-influenced grimness with his obvious dance floor aspirations. (It took three EP’s of some of the best remixes of the last decade to finish the job.) His boldness grew on his 2009 releases for Hotflush, the “Klinik/Hundreds And Thousands” 12″ and Aesaunic doublepack, where choice of tempo no longer constrained Scuba’s ultra-focused and ardently grayscale bass explorations. And it grew even further on his sublime SCB 12″, perhaps his most confident recording to date despite insistently situating itself outside Rose’s usual comfort zone. But there’s a seriousness and ambition in Scuba, not to mention an obvious knack for musical storytelling, that a single won’t do justice. On Triangulation, his second full-length, Paul Rose finally builds himself a stage on which he can let it all hang out: UK funky, slow-mo D&B, techy house, and of course dubstep all brashly and expertly comingle. Despite that signature Scuba grimmace, one can’t help but listen to this record and smile.
Letting the fog machines run with “Descent,” Scuba kicks things off in earnest with “Latch,” featuring just the sort of rolling soft-touch percussion that’s made his dubstep DJ sets such a pleasure as of late. The record’s first real wow-moment comes courtesy of “Three Sided Shape,” one of the biggest and brightest productions in Scuba’s catalog. The level of control Mr. Rose asserts over his machines — I’m especially taken with the moments when he unexpectedly holds back chord changes, creating delicious, hiccup-y melodic tension — is near-astounding. And though I haven’t heard it on the floor, I have no doubt that breakdown has killed people. On “Minerals,” Scuba channels his Berghain colleagues Marcel Dettmann and Norman Nodge, taking leaky-pipe techno up a few tempo notches. As much a songwriter on this album as a producer, however, Scuba eschews MDR-style trackiness for an assuredly A-to-B ride. “On Deck” and “Before” both find Scuba working in 4/4 and Nonplus-indebted drum & bass, respectively — genres for which Rose has professed great interest. He very much nails both. “On Deck,” with its window smashes and squelching bass, has a welcome and decidedly un-Scuba lightness. While he dances around the beat like Roska or Uncle Bakongo, Scuba never sounds like he’s just looping a couple of quirky bars. “Before” might fall short of dBridge’s “Wonder Where,” its obvious inspiration, but it’s a loving tribute with enough of Scuba’s eccentricities to set it firmly apart.
After once again finding himself very much in the Berghain mode on “Tracers,” Scuba loses a bit of his focus, if only ever so slightly. “You Got Me” worked perfectly on Sub:stance, but taken on its own, that haze of modern rock guitars brings a twinge of cheesiness that’s not entirely welcome. D&B excursion number two, “So You Think You’re Special,” veers dangerously close to emo mallrat fodder. I’m still, however, inclined to call it genius: from a production standpoint, those live drums and double-time echo swirls couldn’t be more perfectly executed. Whatever your stance, it’s undoubtedly the frontrunner for the album’s ultimate guilty pleasure. The record picks back up again with “Heavy Machinery”: hallucinogenic synth flourishes and Eno-copping chords straight off A Mutual Antipathy make for something nearly lighthearted. “Glance” treads water somewhat, but Scuba needs to build steam for “Lights Out.” At nearly nine minutes, it’s far and away one of the most ambitious dubstep tracks you’re likely to hear this year. Meandering from bass-pulses and Shackleton hand-drumming to stunning, blissed-out techno to gorgeous ambient valley in what feels like far less than its runtime, it’s a fitting abstract for what makes Scuba so damn good right now. I can’t think of a producer who’s committed himself more fully to expanding the reach of his craft. On Triangulation, it pays dividends. Paul Rose has come into his musical own in a massive way, and clubland will undoubtedly take notice. Might the music world outside our borders catch on as well?