Lee Bannon, Alternate/Endings

Jason Randall Smith

Lee Bannon, Alternate/Endings [Ninja Tune]

Those who know Lee Bannon primarily from his recent collaborations with Joey Bada$$ are likely to have a jaw-dropping moment upon listening to his latest album for Ninja Tune. However, staying musically grounded in one place was never one of this producer's finer qualities. There has always been a heavy lean towards the experimental within Bannon's work. Go back to his Fantastic Plastic LP and you'll find a curiously cluttered mess of blunted beats akin to Madlib at his most madcap, littered with deconstructed ciphers as well as toy commercials and game show snippets. Alternate/ Endings finds Lee wholly inspired by the world of drum and bass, which makes this album a perfect fit for the current resurgence of jungle within electronic dance music.

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“Resorectah” opens the album with a newfound energy propelled by high-speed breaks and twisted signals straight out of Squarepusher's brain dance discography. Throughout this release, there's a dark ambience that undercuts the hyperkinetic rhythms. “NW/WB” demonstrates this juxtaposition via chopped-up drum patterns suffocated by sinister, wafting melodies, distorted synth chords, and riotous rap crew yells. Certain selections lean towards the surreal and cinematic like “Phoebe Cates,” with its atmospheric swells that morph into rumbling beats that almost drown the accompanying vocals whole, leaving nothing more than occasional utterances of achingly fragile notes that make it to the surface. The somber pianos of “216” provide a melancholy foundation for a stark, half-time tempo peppered with singing slivers that unexpectedly shifts gears into chugging breaks about halfway through.

The repeated use of particular breaks across certain songs can make some songs feel like fraternal twins of previous tracks, but it's hard not to get caught up in the dizzying freedom of pieces like “Value 10” as it plays with pitch-shifting hi-hats and vocals over frenetic chops and calming chords. “Cold/Melt” introduces spacey interludes into a vortex of snapping snares trying to outrun an echo chamber while “Readly/Available” pits the elements of dark and light against each other. While the first half of the song features descending melodies hugging its galloping breaks, the second half erupts into a cadre of crash cymbals and contemplative bass riffs awash in sonic distortion. Unpredictable and engaging, Alternate/Endings displays Lee Bannon truly coming into his own as a producer, relying upon the need to experiment that has gotten him this far to propel even further into new worlds of sound and rhythm.

 
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