BY NATTY MORRISON
The notion of incorporating live drums into electronic music is generally pretty exhilarating. With the usual flurry of samples, digitized chord progressions and quick-sequenced breakdowns, everything can seem so exact, so coldly exact that you begin to forget you’re dealing with humans here. When a live drummer comes into the mix, it’s like you can feel his heartbeat, like you can taste his warm, sticky blood pumping through the music. If he drops the beat midway, who cares? It’s the excitement of hearing a humanoid enter the robotic den that really matters.
However, in the case of the Denver-based group The Larva Ink, messing up the beat isn’t really an issue. With the a sonic attack fronted by producer Johnny Lewis, the group is ultimately propelled forward by drummer George Horn, who has no problem replicating the deceptively difficult down-tempo hip hop beats that flow throughout much of the group’s music. The drum tracks are shrouded in thick layers of reverb and shimmer, but it’s undeniably real. And coupled with Lewis’ fantastic approach to composition, it becomes a wonderful one-two combo knockout.
The group is anxiously awaiting the release of its first full-length album “Tricks, Glitch and Candy,” and were kind enough to send a few preview tracks my way. What I heard was a lush, energetic approach to down-tempo. It stays funky, swaying in the breeze of synth blasts and airy pad swells. It’s intoxicating in its simplicity. That’s one of the best features of this group: They know how to get your head nodding quickly, and then keep you there forever.
The first cut I heard was “Bleeding Tundra.” This feels like a kind of entrance or portal to the group’s sound; it begins with a quivering loop that recedes to the background, while short key stabs fall on quarter notes and hand claps are nearly syncopated to the rhythm. Soon the track becomes a sort of dancehall or dub reggae track. The listener is intrigued, drawn in by the upstroke keys and the echoes of mournful vocals wailing deep within the song’s shell. But suddenly, without warning, Lewis launches a synthesizer line that drips all over the track and eventually builds the song to a towering crescendo.
“Fear You” is a dreamy piece of total beauty. It strolls softly through ambient keyboards and quick shudders of snare drum. It hits with short guitar licks and high-flying synth riffs. It thickens and thins, quickens and slows. It’s a terrific piece of down-tempo bliss.
If “Tundra” had a bright dancehall feel, then “Fixed System” is what it would be like if dancehall fell into hell and raged with the Devil. It’s dirt-speckled glitch, with terrifying and thrilling samples of didgeridoos and shamanic chanting creating a whirlpool for Horn to get his feet wet in. But the real star of the track is Lewis, who builds the tune into a cacophony of otherworldly sounds and landscapes.
“Hell Dome” is an undeniable force of music. Funk-filled and laid back, this is what it would sound like if George Clinton ate a few rolls and went to a rave. It’s reminiscent of early G-funk from the West Coast, but without the usual limits of harmonic exploration found in hip-hop. It has a descending bass line that makes the listener want to throw up their hands and sky punch until the roof caves in. If these tracks are merely a preview, then I simply cannot wait to hear the full force of The Larva Ink.
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