Barely a year has passed since the label arm of British website Sonic Router put out its first release, but in that time, the imprint has done an impressive job of creating its own sonic identity. Across a string of pleasantly low-key releases from the likes of Torus, Hav Lyfe, and Bambooman, the young label has honed in on the point where muted, headphone-friendly house meets the more atmospheric end of hip-hop beatmaking. This latest release, courtesy of Fuewa—a more sedate new alias of UK producer Chris Sallows (a.k.a. Microburst)—is possibly Sonic Router's most accomplished embodiment of that aesthetic to date, as the record blends sidechained atmospherics and dense washes of reverb across a backdrop of washed-out, sluggish club beats.
In truth, there are few techniques that Sallows employs across the course of Birth Palace that we haven't heard before. There's a heavy reliance on the same extreme sidechaining effect that characterized the sound of post-dubstep, alongside the gentle knocks and thuds of found-sound snares and the almost obligatory, Burial-like musical manipulation of vinyl crackle. To his credit though, Sallows peppers each of the EP's tracks with subtle creative touches that raise his work above that of many of his peers.
Take "Undress_Invert," for example; the track emerges from static to form a seemingly straightforward, minimal hip-hop beat, then blindsides the listener with an oddly placed rhythmic change which appears out of nowhere, almost completely inverting the track's groove. It's a production that manages to be tonally gorgeous, rhythmically peculiar, and very subtly abrasive—all at the same time. Similarly engaging is the slowly evolving "Outa Banks," which gently switches from a cluttered concoction of fuzzy kicks and misplaced snares into an extended outro based around a pulsing, almost industrial bed of noisy synths.
Birth Palace is at its best, however, when faint remnants of livelier strains of club music can be found bubbling under Sallows' atmospheric compositions. On the opening "Blhok," a rough, loose house beat pounds away murkily under a patchwork of throbbing melodic lines, resulting in a track that bears a strange, distant resemblance to commercial dance music, only the formula has been reworked to incorporate the erratic dynamics of Sallows' purposely rough-edged production. Similarly, "Time Paint" is built around a meandering synth arpeggio that feels like it could break out into a full-blown trance tune at any moment, but instead just dissolves into a deep wash of ambient filtered chords and offbeat claps. It's this subtle way in which Sallows incorporates textual elements of multiple genres that makes the EP a deceptively deep work. Sonically, he might not be working with a completely unique set of sounds, but the level of detail here makes Birth Palace a release that genuinely rewards multiple visits.