Sunday, February 23, 2014

Album Review: Radikal Guru – Subconscious (2013)

Back in 2011, Polish dub specialist Radikal Guru (aka Mateusz Miller) came up with an almost flawless blend of dubstep and roots reggae on the aptly-titled The Rootstepa album, producing one of the genre’s best debut albums of its year. It was a remarkable effort from an artist/producer who tends to fly well below the mainstream radar.

Then, in November of 2013, this follow-up full-length release arrived to very little fanfare, but Subconscious is every bit as good as its predecessor, and just quietly, it may actually be a little bit better. Again Miller gets the album title just right – sub as in bass heavy, conscious as in “conscious roots” ... perfect for the increasingly popular dubby hybrid Radikal Guru specialises in.
Radikal Guru started releasing music back in 2008, with a series of inspired vinyl releases on the UK-based Dubbed Out Records label, before moving on to Moonshine Recordings, the label responsible for this release (and for that of The Rootstepa). Throughout the past half dozen years or so he’s simultaneously established a reputation for being a big live draw at various roots and dub-related festivals, as well as performing as a regular working DJ on the club circuit(s) across Europe.

But it’s also fair to say that beyond the confines of the roots-meets-dubstep production niche, he’s a relative unknown to the wider record buying public. Barring a serious shift in popular music trends that won’t change anytime soon, so Radikal Guru just carries on doing what he likes, picking up a growing army of followers who tend to like everything he does.

Again, as with The Rootstepa, Subconscious is relatively light on vocal contributions – Echo Ranks features on ‘Warning!’, YT on ‘Stay Calm’, and Dan Man on ‘Know Yourself’ – but I think that’s a good thing. It allows for vast swathes of space in the music, which Radikal Guru uses to apply his special touch – loops, vocal samples, echoes, horns/brass, and all manner of digi-dub FX.

The surprising lack of melodica this time out does nothing to dull the sense that Subconscious still draws its primary inspiration from true Jamaican roots music, for all of the modern technology at play in its production. And I still struggle with the notion that Radikal Guru is producing this stuff from his mainland Europe location and not the island of its muse.

There’s a feeling that the album slowly builds in intensity the further it progresses, ‘Wicked Dub’ providing an almost upbeat celebratory climax, after the floaty skank and additional textures of mid-album cuts like ‘Spaced Out’, ‘Outernational’, and the pretty damned special title track itself.

I’d love to hear this stuff on a huge sound system. I think something gets a little lost in translation when listening through headphones – most likely copious amounts of bass! – but short of the man touring this part of the world anytime soon, I guess I’ll just have to take what I can get for now.

Subconscious clocks in at ten tracks across nearly 49 minutes, and a large portion of it is pure bliss … here’s ‘Different Dub’:

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