2009 was a pretty momentous year for James Boyle. Already known as a well established and respected drum and bass producer under his pseudonym of Breakage, he spent his year releasing tracks including a thunderous remix of Sidney Sampson’s ‘Riverside’, a subwoofer quaking piece of dubstep with grime duo Newham Generals on ‘Hard’, and an astounding collaboration with Roots Manuva in the shape of ‘Run ’em Out’. Following up from 2006’s This Too Shall Pass and a 2007 record deal with Shy FX’s Digital Soundboy imprint, his highly anticipated sophomore effort Foundation offers up a flawless mixture of drum & bass and dubstep, as well as a stunningly utilized variety of guest appearances.
Starting with the jittery throb of ‘Open Up’, it’s immediately painfully clear that Breakage is not simply a drum and bass producer playing with dubstep; he’s a producer with an aptitude for a startling amount of genres. Whilst some drum and bass DJ’s manage to create abrasive works of grating mid-range, Breakage has demonstrated a complete mastery of the lower frequencies; layering up the echoing vocals and reverberating synth-stabs with tides of 30hz bass.
The dubstep doesn’t stop here either, after a brief skit from dancehall selecta-supreme David Rodigan, Newham Generals step up to the mic on the brooding ‘Hard’, a vocal mix of Breakage’s original track ‘Together’. Breakage’s dubstep, put simply, puts most dull wobble-bound producers to shame. When ‘Foundation’ eventually rolls into the chest-rattling bass of ‘Higher’, there should be considerable goosebumps. Arguably one of the best dubstep tracks of recent years, the sheer magnitude of the bass is genuinely awe inspiring; how such minimalism can take up such incredible space is stunning.
By no means has Breakage abandoned his roots though, as the subsequent track ‘Old Skool Ting’ offers exactly what it says on the tin; rapturously energetic jungle shot through with veins of the original drum and bass masters. Tracks like the intense ‘Foundation’ or the sinister, throbbing ‘Temper’ throw a shot of more contemporary drum and bass into the mix. With a sort of intense, dark futurism, the tracks are as cerebral as they are danceable; a perfect mix.
Perfect mixes seem to be Breakage’s forte; the album is full of them. Not only have dubstep and drum and bass been created with deft creativity, but vocal samples have been harnessed in a way that creates accessible, catchy pieces of soul without compromising any artistic integrity. ‘Justified’ is a strutting piece of low-end dubstep, imbued with a sultry sort of smooth R’n’B from guest vocalist Erin, whilst the garage-influenced skip of ‘Over’ uses sorrowful vocals from Zarif to carve out an energetic piece of two-step-esque dubstep. Breakage’s next single, ‘Speechless’ (released 22nd of March) contains some lilting soul from Donae’o, who layers his anxiety over some crushing, grainy bass from Breakage and even a wah-wah washed guitar solo from Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. at the song’s close.
A large portion of excitement will undoubtedly be aimed towards ‘Vial’, a collaboration with the enigmatic producer Burial; thankfully, neither of these two producers dissapoint. In true Burial fashion, the track hums with a dark vibrancy, clicking and crackling sits beneath the rolling two-step drums that because so familiar on both his eponymous debut and it’s follow-up, Untrue. There is, however, a difference. Breakage’s warping, rumbling, sub-bass adds a truly malevolent presence to the song; as if the song’s atmospheric sadness had just began to manifest itself as fiery rage.
Demonstrating the sort of delicate production skills that every producer should aspire to be, Breakage’s Foundation is one of the most perfectly enacted albums of drum and bass and dubstep ever produced. Blending cerebral drum and bass and stark, fresh dubstep with vocal appearances from both the delicate and the rhyme-smiths, Breakage’s album neither looses itself in the experimental nor limits itself to the generic. Not even limited to these two genres, interludes such as ‘If’ and ‘Squid Bass’ demonstrate the range of influences taken on board by Breakage – elements of wonky, bass-driven house, reggae, dub and R’n’B permeate throughout. Intelligent but never too serious, raucous but never excessive, Breakage’s Foundation is truly essential listening for anyone with even the most remote interest in electronic music.
Foundation is out now on Digital Soundboy Records.