Those who think electronica nomenclatures are becoming unnecessarily confusing won't find any relief here. DJ/producers Darren White (aka dBridge, formerly of Bad Company) and Instra:mental (aka Alex Green) have joined forces to create a collaborative called Autonomic -- which refers not only to the duo as a musical unit but also to its club night and podcast. The music may be a little bit confusing as well, to anyone expecting the drum'n'bass that has been each producer's stock in trade up until now. Proceeding under the slogan "music first; drum'n'bass second," the duo has put together a DJ mix that seems to bring drum'n'bass full circle, morphing it back toward the soul and techno elements that informed its development in the early '90s (though largely ignoring the reggae influences that were equally important). And true to their mission, they've done an excellent job of focusing on musical quality first and genre boundaries second: the program opens with the gorgeous "Seems Like" by Riya, a languid but soulful pop song; they also bring in the surprisingly gentle "Pushed" by Stray, which features a kick drum that sounds like a thumb stroking a record needle, a snare drum that comes in very rarely from the cold of outer space, and the faintest possible wood block. Vaccine's "Ochre" is built on unsettlingly dark sounds and an off-center beat, but gradually the sun rises as the vocal samples pile up in layers and it ends on a quietly joyful note. The over the top Auto-Tune effects on Genotype's "Distorted Dreams" add an element of whimsical fun to the proceedings, while Instra:mental's "Fist [Level 2B Mix]" starts out coolly funky and then gets cooler as vocals and groove get progressively denser; this is where the first hints of "traditional" drum'n'bass start becoming audible. Over the course of 31 tracks the sounds and grooves do eventually start blurring together a bit, but not in a bad way -- there's a compelling, tensile strength at the core of all of these rather understated tracks, and they end up weaving together into an unusually beautiful whole.
by Rick Anderson