Claude VonStroke Urban Animal
As with his previous two albums, Urban Animal shows a depth to Claude VonStroke (a.k.a. Barclay Crenshaw) that isn't always obvious in his party-friendly singles. On 2006's Beware of the Bird, club anthems "Deep Throat" and "The Whistler" contrasted with "Lullaby"'s spooky washes; for 2009's Bird Brain it was "Aundy," named for his wife, that provided the calm amongst the bassy brashness. These are tracks that probably don't see much traction in a Claude VonStroke DJ set, where he focuses on free-wheeling party sounds, but they do show him to be a producer who, for all his associations with a very particular style of low-end thud, isn't someone who can easily be pigeonholed.
On Urban Animal, there are clear hints of Crenshaw's recent fascination with the sounds emanating from Bristol, home to Dirtybird signing Eats Everything. The title track, constructed around sub-rattling 808s and a springy organ line, sounds like it was built to boom and "The Bridge" is a 100-bpm roller, all sliced-up vocal samples and those same subs, this time wrapped in slithering snares. Bass is, unsurprisingly for an album on Dirtybird, the foundation of every track. His low end has always maintained a remarkable balance between being sinuous and heavy, but on Urban Animal, things get even more chest-rattling. Crenshaw recently took a Point Blank dubstep production course, which he says helped him develop more clarity in his subs, and there's certainly a laser-guided precision to the bass on show here. "The Clapping Track" is an especially potent example; an out-and-out slab of chunky house, one can almost feel each frequency reverberate in a different part of the body.
The boldest departure from the typical Claude VonStroke palette is "Oakland Rope," a straight-up drum & bass track featuring the vocal talents of Fox and Py. The Dirtybird crew has long professed its love of drum & bass, in particular the work of Metalheadz and Ed Rush & Optical, and this song feels like the unleashing of a long pent-up urge to experiment at the quicker tempo. However, it also comes across as a facsimile of a late-'90s steppa; in the wake of Autonomic, not to mention recent reimaginings of early jungle by Special Request and Tessela, it feels too reductive.
Crenshaw is at his best when knocking out low-slung house anthems, and though recent single "Dood" and "Lay It Down" don't quite scale the same heights as early smashes like "Who's Afraid of Detroit?," they're still notable entrants in the Claude VonStroke canon. As with his DJ sets though, Crenshaw is always one to leave on a high, and "Can't Wait" is a hairs-on-end closer rendered with a soaring build, its pseudo-trance riffs toned down into piano-led tech-house. It's a sumptuous close to an album that occasionally sees Crenshaw at his most experimental, and though he might not always hit the mark, in some moments he's utterly sublime.
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