Benga

Chapter II

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On his third full-length and major-label debut, dubstep producer Benga walks in many directions at once, and never quite focuses on a pronounced way forward. As a rule, much of this album would have fit on 2008's Diary of an Afro Warrior. There's the spacy, skeletal abstraction of "Click and Tap" that exists outside anywhere dubstep finds itself at the moment. The clattering "To Hell and Back" -- which makes fine use of the lead in Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" and a fragment of the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey, both treated to the point of sounding like they aren't sampled -- erupts into a dancefloor grinder with a monstrous bassline. "There Is No Soul" is Benga at his trademark best, stacking colliding basslines, flashy Detroit techno moodiness, a deep blue B-3 sample, and a melancholy, metallic soul that cancels out his title. There are moments here that just seem to retread the work he did on the Magnetic Man album, including the popstep of "Smile" with Charli XCX, or the flawed collaboration with rapper P-Money on "High Speed," which can't make up its mind what it wants to be. "Yellow" makes fine use of Grandmaster Flash's "The Message" and drives home the paranoid angle with skittering backbeats, wobbly bass, and robotic vocals, while "I Will Never Change" is another Benga signature moment and perhaps the set's finest track, with its enormous drops and futurist melodic minimalism. All of the disparate parts on this track shouldn't add up, but somehow they do and they offer something grand. While few of the vocal tracks really inspire, one that does is "Higher" with Autumn Rowe. She finds her way between the punchy drum'n'bass rhythms, spatial and textural extrapolations, rugged experimental basslines, and clattering piano chords. She co-exists with them, displaying an expressive lyricism all her own that makes her at once another instrument in the mix and a soulful standout. Though it's not perfect, and in some ways treads water, Chapter II is simply Benga being himself, trying to wrap all of his various dimensions as a producer together. If it is uneven, that's because there's much more here than is necessary, rather than a sad dearth of ideas.

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