London producer Solomon Rose’s creative work as Silkie has always wobbled to a different groove than many of his other dubstep contemporaries. His sound embraces a brighter, soulful, synth-driven aesthetic that often has more swagger and charisma than today’s bombastic big-drop tracks.; he also favors concept albums that tell futuristic narratives through complementary and smoothly composed tracks. His two previous full-length solo works, '09’s City Limits Vol. 1 and '11’s City Limits Vol. 2, did exactly that, and saw Rose’s sound develop from pristine, fusion-y modes to a plethora of electro, post-garage and R&B-soaked numbers. Those two albums charted Rose’s travels through earthbound streets and urban environments—and what comes next launches his music into another galaxy entirely.
His third proper album, Fractals, is presented as the second chapter in a “space opera” series on producer Distal’s Anarchostar label. That conceit aside, what Rose may have achieved instead is dubstep’s first dystopian Afrofuturist concept album—think Janelle Monet making beats for London club FWD>>, or a cosmically-revitalized George Clinton retooling his P-Funk agenda for the EDM generation. While keeping to the album’s premise—that Silkie is “broadcasting lost music from a re-appropriated military pod...as a platform of hope for the people left on a dying planet”—Rose interprets R&B traditions from the 1970s to present—funk, electro-boogie, New Jack Swing, contemporary soul and garage house—on tracks saturated with elegant synths and taut rhythms.
The results often blend soul nostalgia with a hyper-futuristic groove. On tracks like “Love Affair” we hear echoes of Janet Jackson’s Control-era Jam & Lewis productions mingling with shuffling reggae-style keyboard riffs and smacking half-time snare patterns. “Majik” starts with gospelesque piano riffs that hint at Blaze or Ten City’s classic house moods as between-the-sheets R&B vocal snippets are layered atop; electro number “Moda” feels like a Newcleus cover done by Bugz In The Attic, its steady, robotic beat is augmented with loose jazzy instrumentation that gives this android unit a funky soul.
Despite its arty aesthetic, this is still a dubstep album, albeit an evolved, 2015 future-soul version of said genre. Tracks like “Swank” are perfectly club-primed; strutting slowly with subtly distorted bass loops while its melodics do the electric slide. “Entrapment” is the album’s sole moody number that utilizes arpeggiating synth patterns without sounding tired, while “Limits” threads R&B diva vocals into a spacious, sub-bass tune that has all the markings of an Anti-Social Entertainment (Silkie’s DJ and production cohorts) classic.
Fractals features corresponding artwork by Argentinian artist Freshcore; these drawings reinforce the spacey narrative and also are a tip of the hat to both P-Funk sleeve artists Pedro Bell and Overton “O-Dog” Lloyd, as well as Tony McDermott’s dense cartoon treatments for dub producer Scientist (see Scientist Meets the Space Invaders on Greensleeves). These images not only visually complement the music but take us deeper into the universe and messages Rose is conveying.
Like a urban-galactic graphic novel with a correspondingly badass soundtrack, Fractals offers listeners something more colorful and conceptual to digest. And in an era of growling, interchangeable brostep bangers, raging as they do with imagined menace, Rose’s art and music delivers an exhilarating, soulful alternative.