When Nautiluss first appeared last year with a collaborative single for Untold's Hemlock label, it seemed a pretty safe bet to place the Canadian amongst the ever-growing list of producers emerging with their own take on the contemporary sounds of underground UK dance music. But with his sophomore outing, Nautilus proves first impressions can be a bit misleading, as he's turned in an EP's worth of crunchy, techno-rooted tracks that still throw glances towards the Brits for occasional guidance, but ultimately stand on their own merits.
In the theme of changing impressions, it seems appropriate to point out that this bass-minded four-tracker hails from the Tiga-helmed Turbo label, an imprint that since the early aughts has served as the home to a neverending string of techno heaters (most which were electro-oriented). Now, the label appears to be opening its doors to more subtle styles, enlisting Nautiluss alongside producers like Locked Groove and Sei A to continue forging the label's newest tributary amongst its extensive roster. Truthfully, it's a great fit, especially when considering the first two cuts that make up ?lpha, "Mixed Numbers" and "Sabbath." Accounting for the first half of the EP, the pair of selections leans heavily on Nautiluss' techno inklings, both utilizing over-compressed drum tones and restlessly filtered and sequenced basslines to push their heavy-handed grooves along. There's an underlying grit to these songs—it's somewhere along the lines of the blown-out textures of Gerry Read, but with a techier edge—that allows "Mixed Numbers" and "Sabbath" to straddle a few lines at once, mainly keeping the Turbo faithful pleased with deep, dancefloor-ready four-on-the-floor while simultaneously enlisting the ears of forward-thinking heads by skirting around cliches and traps, fully exploring the sunken beats with adventurous synth work and a few unexpected twists and turns.
The second half of ?lpha is considerably more indebted to the UK lineage of beatmaking. Beginning with "Cloud City," Nautiluss gradually takes a step towards less bombastic territory, presenting an excursion built around a revolving synth loop and garage-like swing. Again, the synth offerings are slightly overdriven and constantly filtered and affected, revealing harmonics as the frequencies rise and giving a real sense of movement to the track. The result is a bit reminiscent of Zomby's earlier works (but with a touch of Detroit thrown in); it has the same ability to be instantly infectious in its simplicity, but "Cloud City" expands on its idea longer than Zomby would have (probably because the melodies here aren't quite as strong), eventually building the track out to a five-plus minute endeavor. The EP's final cut, "Spidercrawl," proves to be more aligned with our original expectations. Its half-time step would have fit a little better with Nautiluss' previous release, but it doesn't feel entirely out of place here, particularly as the textures move about in saturated warmth and the layers of sizzling synths move through their filtered motions.
In the end, ?lpha is a solid record, even if its direction is a bit unexpected. It also serves to show that Nautiluss is a producer with a grander vision than some of the current up-and-comers, and, given his output so far, also appears to be one with the chops to back it up.
Stream the entire ?lpha EP here.