ALB & Subdivision – Origins EP
Words by Tony Ferguson
ALB & Subdivision are making me look at an alternative to the word minimal. Spacious, perhaps. Open and free to move around, this EP makes me think about the roomscale VR I’ll be playing with later this year and having ‘Origins’ as my accompanying soundtrack. Of course, minimal is a perfectly serviceable word that fits well within this release but I often feel it’s an excuse for not taking a more in depth look at what’s really going on. Yes we can hear (or not) the space between sounds, and when there aren’t obvious stabs and coarse hits to fill those gaps we go for the ‘it’s minimal’ description. That’s all fine, but if we chose to look further, deeper into the sound those gaps start to fill up. We find textures, the sweeping tails of reverb and delay taking the place of a snare, raspy mid bass to provide something tangible amidst the lack of obvious noise. It’s essentially subtext, reading between the lines if you will, and it’s here we can find ‘the groove’ – syncopation, ghost hits and effects processing that bring a track to life by ‘filling in the gaps’. You can’t have big sounds hitting your ear all the time, it’s fatiguing and nobody wants that, so ALB & Subdivision give us an aural treat of feelings and atmospheres between sounds covered in emotion and ‘vibe’, which in turn makes the ‘Origins EP one to check out for sure.
Classic and understated like an 18 year old single malt, opening tune ‘Lately’ offers up something smooth and enjoyable with a solid drum track and low lying sub bass that just kind of flows throughout, never getting ‘in your face’ but still providing enough vibration to keep my attention. It’s a mood setter, in other words, with a lovely vibe that delivers enough energy but never really moves forwards. I don’t mean this to be a criticism but more an observation. ‘Lately’ doesn’t need a big drop and tonnes of modulation after the break, it’s not about that. The vibe/mood is set early on and ALS & Subdivision show a consistent lock on that throughout. What’s impressive is how they have managed to keep ‘Lately’ so interesting and enticing from start to finish while keeping things so subtle. As part of my process I will do some ‘passive listening’, so for normal people that means I chuck some beats on in the background while I do other shit like file backups and PC maintenance. During this time I really found ‘Lately’ (and most of this EP) to be a perfect bed, filling out the room and keeping my mind active while I transfered hundreds of gigabytes of data across various networks and drives, yay fun. We all need a soundtrack to our day and sadly it can’t always be hammering across a big system absorbing all our attention, and that’s why we have lush vibes like ‘Lately’ to fill in the dead space of the mundane 9-5.
GLXY’s remix takes the mellow mood of the original ‘Lately’ and gently layers a touch more energy and pace over the top. Not so much taking that groove away but more just enhancing it, refining and building upon it and bringing that glorious vocal into front and centre stage. GLXY have managed to sneak in a rather splendid guitar, beautifully and subtly distorted, and positioned perfectly in the mix. It’s a blink and you miss it kind of thing but I love hearing stuff like this. I also love the reverb on that vocal: coupled with a delay here and there it works wonderfully. So much space is created across those frequencies and indeed the rest of the track, and even though this a soft and spacious effect I never felt like it impacted the energy. The low end and percussion are so strong that everything keeps smashing forwards while smooth and subtle instrumentation brings life into the mix at the best times. At this point I really feel like this remix is a grower: after many plays I just fall into the first two minutes completely. By tweaking the original GLXY deliver something more, something slightly elevated, but the original is very much still here. It’s true to the influence that came before it and uses layers to create extra pace, atmosphere and vibe so that we can enjoy a new iteration without forgetting the original form of ‘Lately’.
We get a lovely consistency as we move on from the two mixes of ‘Lately’ to ‘Origins’. This tune sets out to lift the low end presence up a touch and already we get a little more energy while not losing that relaxed vibe. There’s a lovely flow throughout this track which is hard to put my finger on; I understand these guys are pros so the structure is tops, but it’s not that. Nothing is obtrusive; the sub rises and falls while the atmospherics float across the speakers, never interfering with the soft sax and oh so warm synth (organ maybe?). These elements seem to come together but never clash and always with plenty of space between, making the whole track feel very deep in terms of layers and vibe. The only thing that gets in the way of this (after multiple plays) is the snare; it feels just a tad hot in the mix. Putting my over-sensitive snare sense to one side though let’s take a moment to adore that lovely guitar twang, delayed to perfection and spacious to say the least, one of so many elements that just seem to float around the mix. I think it’s these floaty soundscapes that really bring out the sub, maybe that doesn’t make sense but never mind if it doesn’t! These soft and flowing sounds are just that, soft. So the low end, that deep sub bass, can just rub itself all over you, vibrating while it does so and this really makes it seem fuller. Not having a defined edge, no sharp corners to cut through the mix it instead just fills the low end completely pushing all the energy into your speakers.
Finally, jumping into the second remix of this EP we get the Silence Groove treatment taking ‘Origins’ to a new level, somewhat out of place with the accompanying tracks on show here but truly welcomed at this point. Plenty of ‘amens’ and some quite simply dangerous sub are the order of the day here. Usually I’m not all about the amen break unless it’s used sparingly or to good effect, but Silence Groove appears to have hit pretty close (but not dead centre) to the sweet spot here. Even so, I can’t help but find that when the sampled breaks go away the real percussion can truly shine: the sampled breaks can take up a lot of headroom in the mix so just listen and you should get what I mean. But regardless, it’s hard not to love this tune. The original is great and yet the remix takes it to a whole new level with ample levels of energy and power from the low end (seriously, that sub) paired with some tight percussion, while keeping that subtlety and warmth that ALB & Subdivision have created beautifully up to this point. OK, maybe the subtlety is lost a bit but who cares, that low end hits hard, and this is a cranker for sure, head bouncing, speakers rekt. In fact, listening through this entire EP really lets the Silence Groove remix stand up and hit you square in the face, leaving behind the mellow vibes that came before it and rumbling its way into my heart. ‘Origins’ gets the energy and serious bass weight it deserves in this banger of a remix.
So, to sum up. I have nothing but respect for artists/producers who can bang out a four or five track EP of original content; I’ve done it myself and know first-hand how hard it is. I have no doubt that ALB & Subdivision have the chops for doing just this but it’s in listening to the ‘Origins’ EP that as a consumer, a listener and lover of music I can really get into a couple of original tunes with a couple of remixes to accentuate them. Collaboration is a beautiful thing and should always be embraced as it can bring out vibes and sounds that you never knew you had. ALB & Subdivision have done just that and I get to bask in its very essence with a smile and tapping toe. So I do like this EP, it offers up a tight selection of tracks and one remix that gets my juices flowing for sure, but what else could I ask for? Honestly I could ask for a touch more percussion to accentuate the drums, and maybe a little variation in the snares throughout wouldn’t hurt. Also the low end is hot but I would have liked some more filtered roughness in the mid bass, just every now and then to pick up the energy and add that little something to lift up the lower end of proceedings. No doubt hearing these tracks over a fucking massive system would shut me up pretty quick.
Personal shit as always, just little things I’d like to hear to take this EP to the next level and the kind of things that are in some part offered up in the Silence Groove remix of ‘Origins’. I understand that these things could change the entire vibe or the direction of what ALB & Subdivision are aiming for but if I wasn’t honest and didn’t offer up my thoughts/feelings on the matter what would be the fucking point right? Still though, I really can’t see anyone being disappointed with this release, because it’s great. It doesn’t grab me or pull me or allow me to absolutely lose myself, but perhaps that’s not the idea. ALB & Subdivision have put together some beautiful vibes that will caress more than rock your world, and that’s cool as well.
The Origins EP is out now, and you can grab it on Beatport by clicking here.