It's not so often that a debut album arrives surrounded by as much backstory and legitimate anticipation as that of London-based DJ/producer Jack Stevens (a.k.a. Sully), and actually manages to deliver practically 100% on its preceding hype. Nearly four years and 12 or so records—such as the excellent "Phonebox" single from 2009 and the more recent "The Loot" b/w "In Some Pattern" 12"—after Stevens first appeared on the UK dubstep/garage scene as a solo artist, he's crafted a 10-track LP of brooding club productions. Half of the cuts stay within the tunesmith's usual realm of melancholic 2-step, but the remainder find Sully infusing his bass-driven music with elements of the all-too-popular skitter of footwork. The different styles explored throughout Carrier produce varying sonic results, but never fail to assure the listener that they are listening to one of the most emotionally rich electronic records of this year.
As he exhibited just this week in his moving XLR8R podcast, Sully is fully adept with moody soundscapes, particularly those of a dark and sullen nature. Even when he's in the thick of breakneck kick and hi-hat patterns, Stevens can't seem to stop himself from dousing what might otherwise be a buoyant or playful track with the downtrodden soul of, say, a rickety piano melody or a pitched-down vocal refrain. This apparent love for all things introspective becomes more or less a rule on Carrier; the album's emotional highpoints—"2Hearts" and "In Some Pattern"—are just as equally wrought with swinging rhythms and iridescent rave stabs as they are vibes of tension and uncertainty. Sully's woozy melodies never quite settle into his mixes, his basslines sound oversized to the point of bursting the tracks apart, and the elements of his beats all feel at odds with one another—it's as though each sound is constantly vying for the spotlight. It makes not only for unique dancefloor tuneage, but enriching home listening as well.
Comparisons to bass music royalty could and probably should be made, but Sully is no doubt operating on his own terms. He just about flaunts this fact once he starts toying with the tropes of juke. "Scram," "I Know," and "Trust" are among the highlights of Carrier's forays into frantic rhythms and repetitious sample dropping, though his use of these footwork trademarks is far more refined than that of Steven's contemporaries. Call it inauthentic if you must, but matching a somber piano or a wavering synth tone up against the incessant knock of 160-bpm drum patterns is a fresh sound that can't help but be admired. Maybe Sully doesn't uncover anything earth-shattering or out-and-out game-changing, but on his debut LP, he does present a fully developed sound that remains rooted in the history of UK dance music while eagerly looking for its next development—leaving his bleeding heart on prominent display throughout.