At the forefront of the British drum‘n'bass scene for over a decade, Welsh producer Lincoln Barrett, aka High Contrast, could have been forgiven for surrendering to the dubstep genre like some of his Hospital Records labelmates. But although there's the occasional bass wobble, as on the lush, atmospheric chillout of "The Only Way There" and the mellow, Magnetic Man-esque "Not Waving, But Drowning," his fourth studio album, The Agony & the Ecstasy, largely remains faithful to his familiar sound. While the generic liquid funk of "Father, Can't You See I'm Burning?" and the irritating, tinny synth-led "Emotional Vampire" suggest the 32-year-old hasn't really progressed from his early-2000s beginnings, the rest of the album is far more creative. "The Road Goes On Forever" is an inspired mash-up of Sonic the Hedgehog-esque video game effects and sampled, swirling psychedelica (courtesy of the Who's "Baba O'Riley"); "238 Days" is a brooding cinematic affair which bravely leaves the blistering beats behind in favor of epic strings, Karl Hyde's ghostly melodies and the occasional burst of spoken word; while Clare Maguire lends her gutsy, soulful tones to the gorgeously slow-building melancholy of "Almost Human." Disappointingly, what appears to be the most intriguing track on paper turns out to be the most formulaic, with the Tiësto and Underworld collaboration "The First Note Is Silent" failing to provide anything approaching the spark you'd expect from two dance music pioneers. But this damp squib is rather indicative of a record whose quality lives up to the contrasting nature of its title.
AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien