I am what one would call a dubstep poseur. I'm a fan of the genre, but don't really have time to follow all the 12" releases and club cuts, instead waiting until artists release full lengths to try to check out what's been going on. I'll admit it's a pretty piss-poor way to follow a rapidly-evolving genre, as it's something akin to looking at the growth rings of a tree and seeing the major markers without seeing all the small events that lead to them.
Under the name Pinch, Rob Ellis has released several highly-regarded 12" on both the Planet Mu and Tectonic label, but Underwater Dancehall is his debut full-length release. Just when I think that the genre might run aground a bit, along comes a album like this to make me check myself and realize that there's still plenty of room for expansion. A double-disc set featuring a full disc of tracks with vocals (and a second of purely instrumentals in the same running order), this ten track release is full of great new sounds and several knockout moments. One of those arrives early, as "Brighter Day" opens the release with growling sub-bass, swirls of melodica, and cracking beats that keep it rumbling forward. One of the best parts of the tracks are the vocal additions from Juakali, which rip with fierce ragga dancehall style and are occasionally touched with subtle harmonies.
"Get Up" follows, and again features great vocals as Yolanda lets loose with some deeply soulful vocals that take the thunderous track and push it into a sort of pop feel that would likely be a radio hit if programmers were a bit more adventurous. From there, it's just as varied, with "Airlock" kicking out a hyper-crisp minimal track that's worthy of its title to the reggae-flavored "One Blood, One Source" featuring Rudey Lee on vocals. "Angels In The Rain" peels back the layers to reveal a stunning textural ambience along with light vocals from Indi Khur as some deep thuds keep it just grounded enough.
There are only a couple minor missteps, including the more obvious "Gangstaz" (which also features Juakali), but even then it's more of an issue with the vocals. It's hard to argue too much with that, as it's obvious Ellis has let his contributors really add their own flavor to the pieces. As it stands, Underwater Dancehall is easily one of the more varied dubstep releases that I've heard to date, and yet a common thread runs through the release and holds it together. Album closer "Lazarus" starts out in fairly standard dubstep territory, then turns on a dime and flourishes with a beautiful, melodic second half that pretty much redeems the entire thing. It's just those sort of curveballs that show Ellis is easily among the more talented producers in this area right now. I can't wait to hear what he comes up with next.