Terror Danjah, Undeniable

[Hyperdub]


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It’s been a busy year for Terror Danjah. After last year’s instrumental collection Gremlinz for Planet Mu, he’s released no less than four singles, a meaty EP for Planet Mu, and now Undeniable, his first true solo album. That’s an incredible output for an artist clocking in at almost ten years of career behind him. In my review of the Bruzin VIP/Hysteria 12″ I attested he’s at the forefront of a new era in grime that’s focused on dynamic instrumentals and a playful futurism rather than the vigorous swagger and posturing of early grime. The influence of grime’s sibling dubstep is apparent, sometimes blurring the lines between these two children of garage. Having focused primarily on instrumental grime in his recent output, it was at first surprising to hear Undeniable, with it’s almost even split between instrumentals and vocal tracks by both traditional MCs and a resurgence of “rhythm ‘n’ grime” type tracks with female singers. Perhaps it’s fitting that an artist with this much history behind him would choose to look at all sides of his community for his first album. Throughout Undeniable‘s thick tracklist each song fits into the whole as a strong and essential cog, like the people of a vibrant city, as befitting the origins of grime in East London.

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In the early days of grime, tracks were incredibly sparse with stuttering beats and rolling bass lines as the primary elements behind an MC’s aggressive rhymes. It’s interesting to find Terror Danjah reaching back to this minimal era for two of the album’s instrumentals, “S.O.S.” and “Minimal Dub.” Stripping them of rhymes, the beats are stop-start tableaus with massive spaces in between the kicks and snares. At eight-minutes, “S.O.S.” has the potential to be grating, but Terror keeps the pace moving with subtle changes in drum patterns and escalating synths. “Minimal Dub” is equally spacious but a retro bouncing ball bass line pushes the song into a playful rhythm workout. When comparing these instrumentals to the current crop of grime tracks, they buck the trend of wildly high-pitched synths whirling out of control, instead focusing on the heart of the matter: the rhythm of a city, the trains and factories pounding constantly in the background.

More modern grime sounds appear in the form of previous singles “Acid” and “Bruzin VIP,” both full of kinetic drum programming and bleating synths. Yet the curiously house-oriented inflections of “Breaking Bad” sound nothing like most grime these days. The steady thump in this collaboration with Baby Face Jay eschews the stuttering swing of grime in favor of a high energy rave, at once moving beyond grime and reaching back into the history of dance music to Chicago. When the MCs appear, they appear in full force. There is an ominous sense in “Grand Opening,” which features Dream McLean, that this album means to take the listener through the ringer, minor chords and chanting choirs in tow. Mz Bratt and Griminal don’t leave any room for mistakes on the frenetic call and response of “This Year (Pro Plus),” while D Double E provides a charmingly lighthearted vocal to the title track. When hearing these tracks against the skeletal beats of “S.O.S” and “Minimal Dub,” it’s easy to understand the lineage of where modern grime came from.

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Where Undeniable differs most from much of today’s grime is the emotional pop songs like “I’m Feeling U,” a light number with a simple vocoder chorus and gentle melody. “Time to Let Go” and closer “Story Ending” are similarly smooth and low-key, focusing on narrative rather than blistering beats with a host of repeated vocal phrases. Making a bid for radio stardom, though, is the torch song vocals of Lauren Mason on “All I Wanna Do,” which recalls the heady days of Mo’Wax with intricate sampled drum programming, a glacial pace, and a scratch solo. I couldn’t imagine a song like this on albums by such grime luminaries like Wiley or Dizzee. It takes a special perspective like Terror’s to appreciate what this sound has in common with his peers. It’s that mood of the city at night, streetlights and buses, the atmosphere of a mass of club-goers moving to one beat. With Undeniable, Terror Danjah has captured a melting pot of style and feeling and shaped them sonically, illuminating his own history as a producer and showing a pathway to the future of grime.

Colin Shields  on November 27, 2010 at 12:24 PM

bad

Colin Shields  on November 28, 2010 at 11:50 AM

good review tho!

Keith Pishnery  on November 29, 2010 at 12:03 AM

Care to expand? I know one word criticisms are popular and all, but dialogue goes a long way.

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