As album openers go, one can't do much better than "Darker Than East," from Dusk + Blackdown's 2008 LP, Margins Music. The duo of Dan Frampton and Martin Clark, respectively, didn't hesitate to put the listener in the scene: "There's a police siren going perfectly in the background," Roll Deep's Target said, introducing his corner of East London as music gradually takes shape around him. Four years after its release, it's still a bracing gesture, a snippet of audio vérité plunging the listener into the context behind grime and dubstep—styles that, by the time of the album's release, were already showing signs of deracination. Four years later, it's a fait accompli: styles originating in hyperspecific situations circle the globe, their social content having been politely effaced. Blackdown's work as a music critic and blogger is of a piece with his audio output, using deep respect and learning to fuel his creativity. Finding a balance between commentary and originality is a rather involved tightrope walk, one that's even more impressive for seeming effortless, as it does on records like DJ Sprinkles' Midtown 120 Blues. Dasaflex, Dusk + Blackdown's sophomore full-length, might be expected to follow a similar path, but the London duo has instead opted for another route.
Simply put, Dasaflex is on a very different vibe than its predecessor. Its creators have wisely steered clear of trotting out the same South Asian samples—like the ping-ponging tablas and gashes of tambura on "ConFusion"—that fortified the first album's grime and dubstep framework. In contrast, Dasaflex is a light, even watery album in search of an original take on funky. Those in search of bass weight and urban dread in 2012 would be well advised to seek out Keepers of the Light, an album from the LHF collective released earlier this year on Clark's Keysound label. (An imprint where the catalog numbers begin, naturally, with LDN.) Unexpectedly, Dasaflex feels like it has its roots in the ether—specifically the duo's monthly show on UK institution Rinse, where some of the album's tracks were debuted. Rinse listeners will have more of a grasp on the bouncy brand of bass music Dusk + Blackdown are pursuing here than those who remain tied to their debut LP. Unfortunately, that show offers a more coherent state of the union for bass music than Dasaflex, which also gives few clues as to where the duo are at creatively.
It's hard to tell where album opener "Lonely Moon (Android Heartbreak)" is meant to go. Vocals by Farrah are a neat callback to her appearances on Margins Music, but the track introduces the album on a weary note. Dusk + Blackdown twist her voice into shiny braids as sub-bass and cold handclaps look for a way to tie everything up, but even after seven minutes, no compelling answer emerges. It's a moody, post-club stumble home, robotically going through the motions before collapsing into bed. The album gains some momentum after a few interstitial tracks with "Wicked Vibez," whose choppy snare fills, throbbing bass, and background siren noise sound like a rave heard from a room over. The title track also delivers the party with some restraint, a big, goofy timpani pattern and neon synths punctuating the chopped-up vocal sample. But on "Next Generation," the only track to feature an MC rapping rather than providing sound bites, is a preachy misstep, humorless and self-consciously "conscious."
Dusk + Blackdown could only have made Dasaflex by letting go of their earlier collaboration. It sounds like they're doing what comes naturally, as opposed to looking back. But even when approached with no expectations, their second album lacks a distinct identity. If the last four years were a journey through the night for these two, the dawn on the other side is all loose ends, with only a few engaging moments here and there.