D33J’s Anticon debut, Tide Songs EP, was a cordial introduction to an electronic artist whose identity is largely attached to the WEDIDIT Collective. Released earlier this year, the Tide Songs EP earned D33J an official spot on the team among Baths and Daedelus on Anticon and the larger brotherhood of the WEDIDIT crew. But, if the debut EP was D33J’s assimilation, proving his salt in an emerging canon of Shlohmo’s Bad Vibes LP and Ryan Hemsworth’s Last Words EP, then Gravel is his departure.
I have a feeling most musicians disapprove of sports metaphors, but the scenario calls for it. Names like Baths, Shlohmo, Ryan Hemsworth have become the faces of their respective franchises (WEDIDIT, Anticon), while D33J exists as a role player or prospect talent to each collective. Within Anticon he's a rookie among innovators who paved the way for his music. In WEDIDIT he's the opener to tours with Shlohmo and Hemsworth. But D33J is no longer concerned with making the squad on the Gravel EP. Though Tide Songs and Gravel are only six months apart, drawing comparisons between the two would serve little purpose. This is not the D33J from the debut. The previous EP could manipulate a track into a space that offered headnod affirmations, but the attempts at pushing the composition into a space of deeper internalization (like catharsis, reflection, vulnerability) did not exist or pay off. Tide Songs was mostly an excitable listen that shuffled at the pace of pedestrian commuter traffic.
D33J describes Gravel as occupying that hour of the night when you come home alone, buzzed from illicit substances, and the retreat to self-reflection sets in. It's slower, methodical, and each track seeks out a discovery. With each track D33J asks more of his craft, delving deeper into the 3 a.m. mentality with each passing second. “Faded Creek”, in both title and unbridled catharsis, is a candid recreation of that collapse. It’s the equivalent of looking in the mirror after a wrecked night and sorting through the anguish and pride that come with testing one’s invincibility. After a patient build in the production the opening track opens up to an anthemic refrain that’s sung with frailty and a touch of celebratory fervor.
“Faded Creek” is followed by “Slow”, which features vocalist Kreyola. Much like “Faded Creek” the early impression D33J arranges is slowly softened to reveal the honest intent. On “Slow” the opening measures are aggressive with emphasis on the heavy vibrations of the bass accompanied by video game lasers. As Kreyola’s vocals enter, D33J drowns the machismo bass and laser synths just as Kreyola pelts out “baby move it slow. I wanna take my time,” yielding an r&b slow jam that sounds like the antithesis to Jeremih’s “Fuck You All The Time” (Shlohmo Remix) on the “late night hook-up” playlist.
“Stills” is the closest D33J gets to his previous EP, but even it accesses an emotional availability that comes with mutating the original composition into an unrecognizably new movement that begins to take on anthemic cues that feel like vintage Modest Mouse fed through synthesizers. Strange comparison, yes. But consider the instrumental passages of Modest Mouse's “Talking Shit About A Pretty Sunset” or “Other People's Lives” while listening to “Stills” and “Empty Sunset” and it's there.
By closer “Empty Sunsets,” D33J is finding strength in his late night process. The EP is 4-tracks spanning 18 minutes and it requires nothing more. It's rare the EP format obtains satisfaction since it was designed to complement a larger body of work. D33J is two EPs deep in his tenure with Anticon and Gravel proves a mastery of the condensed structure. This second EP should cut a path for D33J all his own, with assocation to WEDIDIT being purely of brotherly hangouts rather than the futility of measuring his output against his peers. With an LP hopefully in the wings for 2014, D33J has built the necessary anticipation, now he just has to prove he can deliver in a larger context.