After signing to Anticon earlier this year and reissuing his Tide Songs EP in April, Gravel represents Wedidit affiliate Djavan Santos' (a.k.a. D33J) first batch of genuine new material since he properly kicked off his production career earlier this year. This EP, however, does little to move the young producer's craft forward, as it revisits a host of well-treaded ideas while offering a somewhat boilerplate collection of moody, trap-hinting beats.
To his credit, Santos has an undeniable knack for melody and corresponding chord structures; it is something that made his Tide Songs cassette and various pop-refitting remixes such enjoyable listens. On Gravel, D33J still very much displays this talent, but where his past work took on a more aquatic, and sometimes psychedelic or even whimsical feel, this EP has a much more serious attitude. This in itself is not a bad thing—D33J's hazy textures and sunken progressions have always been well-fitted for lonely, contemplative electronic music—but the problem is that the sonic structures which hold these themes together do not sound as seriously constructed as the emotions they attempt to represent. The record's accompanying literature claims that the bulk of Gravel's rhythms were crafted from a "blend of 808 drums and lo-fi desk claps," and if this is truly the case, an 808 (or more likely samples of one) has rarely sounded so lackluster. With the exception of "Slow," the EP's appropriately titled second cut, the record's drum programming takes a strange backseat; basically, it's been absorbed by all of D33J's gushy layers of fuzzy chords and reverb-washed everything, which leaves the drums ill-prepared to carry the songs with any real force or drive.
All things considered, Gravel is certainly a passable record, one which even has its share of brighter moments; the opening "Faded Creek" is an alluringly glacial beat in its more sparse sections, the closing "Empty Sunset" is certainly catchy, and the aforementioned "Slow" serves as the EP's most inventive cut. Still, there is something that feels a bit unfinished about Gravel, both in its sonic build (which can feel oddly sloppy at times) and in the strength of its ideas, which often echo the usual suspects—Mount Kimbie and Shlohmo in particular—too transparently. In truth, D33J is showing up a bit late to the Wedidit party, and as such, his somewhat undeveloped tracks are bound to (perhaps somewhat unfairly) be placed next to those of his more experienced counterparts, which only makes it all the more clear that D33J has some catching up to do.