Artwork by Angelika Arendt
Prior to this release, Adam Marshall’s New Kanada had served largely as a home to house and techno. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the mold-breaking record comes from Bob Bhamra. Operating under the West Norwood Cassette Library moniker for the past 18 months or so, Bhamra has shown a certain disdain for genres, mining the intersection of dubstep and house as furiously as any of his British compatriots. Say What? continues this theme, mixing tropes with more vigor than ever before. Who can say where they all come from, though?
The eponymous track is hung around a pattering breakbeat and singular jabs at the buttons of an old-school phone. Like his previous work, the whole thing has a dusty, sampled feel. Fittingly, Bhamra augments this with his fragmented structure. People often talk about songs “deconstructing,” but “Say What?” does it quite literally. The last two minutes are perc-free, slowing down achingly, like a wind-up toy running out of turns. Earlier on, lurches between disparate sections are achieved with a mid-range snarling; thread to the song’s cloth. This in itself seems borrowed from tech-step, only restricted to a milder finish. “Flashlight” is even stranger. Beginning with a psychedelic groaning, it quickly makes the transition to a drum-heavy loop. Over this, Bhamra layers in thrusts of springy synth. They’re weird too; forceful in the intensity of their strike, but somehow ethereal at the same time. The whole thing points to careful and idiosyncratic sound design. The trippy groaning rounds out the proceedings too, though a careful listen reveals its presence throughout the entire duration, lurking insidiously below the surface.
Adam Marshall’s remix of “Flashlight” manages to achieve a surprising level of normality given the nature of the source material. That’s not to say it’s totally conventional, though. Aptly sub-titled “No Air,” this version is overtly melancholy, with long, resonant tones lamenting their own suffocation. It’s a nice change from the sprightliness of the other two. Marshall backs up the mood terrifically, using parched, deliberate claps to great effect. Like the original, it’s also book-ended in an interesting fashion. A single synth whirrs its way up and down with cautious optimism, like a chopper in slow-motion. As distinct from the middle of the record, these end sections channel a similar kind of vibe to Dettmann & Klock’s “Dawning.” It’s a thoughtful cut which should please fans of New Kanada’s usual output. As for the other two: even if the end results don’t quite tickle your fancy, one has to admire Bhamra’s sheer ability to stand out.