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Featuring UNTOLD

I must admit that this album came to me pretty much out of the blue. I wasn't aware that Jack Dunning (aka Untold) was even working on an LP, let alone ready to release it on his own label, Hemlock Recordings. Hemlock has made a name for itself by providing some of the strangest, most forward-thinking electronic music - primarily from the UK but occasionally from elsewhere around the globe. The label began in 2008 and has since developed the careers of some, by-now, household names, including James Blake, Pangaea and of course Dunning himself.

So we come to the work of Untold and the aforementioned album. Despite coming as something of a surprise, I read the PR for this one and got pretty excited. Over the years, Untold has dipped his toes into various waters, journeying his way through a curious and idiosyncratic take on dubstep, brooding techno (a theme explored further in another sub-label, Pennyroyal) and just down-right weird house. But the theme for this LP, entitled 'Black Light Spiral', was to be something new entirely, channelling Dunning's upbringing on "jungle and hardcore, without being token rave revivalism."

Okay, I thought to myself - all sounds well and good. I can't be alone in noticing the penchant for a certain group of producers to give a nod towards jungle in their music in recent years; a group spearheaded perhaps by Paul Woolford (under his Special Request guise) but including the likes of Tessela and Randomer, the latter having released extensively on Untold's very own Hemlock imprint. However, my gripe with this kind of reenactment is that often it feels forced and nostalgic merely for the sake of it. I was confident that given this framework, Dunning had the guile and craft to create something entirely fresh and new, without utilising the aforementioned sound in too much of a gimmicky a way. Again, the press release for the LP backed this up, telling me how Untold intends 'to push boundaries, to leave people gasping for air and wondering "what the fuck is this music I've just heard?"' I have to stress that this last point is the most prevalent thought that comes to mind upon first listen. I listened to the 40-minute piece from start to finish then in all honesty did my best to put it to the back of my mind. Though I was fully aware of Dunning's ability to defy genre, I genuinely wasn't ready for the onslaught that 'Black Light Spiral' provided. Even in my worst nightmares I'd struggle to conjure sounds so obscure, so frighteningly weird. The sound-design throughout is admittedly impressive, and reminiscent of the kind of clinical production skills provided by somebody like Objekt. Because of this aspect, I'm confident some publications will receive the record with critical acclaim. However, as impressive as these soundscapes are, overall I'm just left wondering - what's the point?

Black Light Spiral LP - Untold [Hemlock]

Make no mistake, the record features all of those typical tokens of raves-past - airhorns, sirens, reggae samples. But beyond this, there is nothing that hints towards Dunning's jungle and hardcore influences. The whole thing feels so lacking in cohesion or direction that in the end it's just a 40-minute collection of random experiments in sound and noise. Yes, they sound pretty cool in and of themselves. But do they work as an album? I'm really not so sure. I was going to give a run-through of the record track-by-track but realised rather quickly that this would be a fruitless endeavour. I'd recommend you pick it up and listen through yourself as it demonstrates, viscerally in places, Untold's ability to skew traditional appreciations of convention. Aside from that though, it offers not a lot. Perhaps I was a tad naive when expecting at least a couple of real gems, tracks like 'Change in a Dynamic Environment' but welded around the structure of Blue Note jungle. Unfortunately, there's none of that here. What's laid out is an 8-track document that charters the strange workings of Dunning's mind as he builds upon the reputation he's built for himself as a man who defiantly strikes-out against the norm. In 'Black Light Spiral', Untold burrows ever deeper down the rabbit hole, exploring avenues yet to be touched. Is the result wholly successful? I'm not convinced it is, but it makes for an interesting experience nonetheless.

The album is released on 24th Feb - grab it at Juno.

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