Fledgling Brooklyn imprint Fifth Wall's third release sees the record hub branching out beyond the work of label bosses Divvorce and Hound Scales for the first time, adding Scottish production duo Clouds to its roster with the Man Out of Dubs EP. It seems a logical fit: Clouds is one of the so-called "New Jack Techno" artists affiliated with Tiga's Turbo label, and deals with a dark and oddly playful type of club music that has a lot in common with both of the Fifth Wall owners' output.
Opener "Drone Function" quickly sets the tone. It's a murky cut of warehouse techno built around the sort of crunchy, bass-laden kicks common in classic British Murder Boys records or Blawan's recent tracks. Clouds' added element of bombast outshines both of those artists, however, as it cloaks the track in a layer of wildly oscillating noise and gives the whole thing an enjoyably overblown instability. This combination of serious techno rhythms and over-the-top dynamics is a running theme throughout Man Out of Dubs. "Tropical Fuck" lives up to its ridiculous title thanks to a relentless rhythm carved out of a thick soup of mid-range percussive elements that seem to veer all over the place. There's a seriously enjoyable groove at the heart of the track, though, and it keeps Clouds' production grounded in the late-night spectrum of classic dancefloor fare.
But it's the similarly high-energy "Phantom Female" that provides the EP's most bombastic moment. Again, the track is rooted in the throbbing pulse of dark techno, but Clouds piles on harsh, overlapping FX which eventually engulf the beat, making for a noisy breakdown that feels peculiar and cartoonishly menacing. By comparison, "T-AO-192" is a relatively restrained affair, a more classically minded drum-machine workout set over a backdrop of ambient drones and filtered FX. An element of dynamic playfulness remains in the track, as the duo peppers its mix with surprising outbursts of metallic hi-hats and mystifying, pitched-down vocal lines.
Both Divvorce and Hound Scales supply appropriately brash and floor-focused remixes to round out the EP. The former of the two strips "Drone Function" of its dynamic chaos, recreating it as a piece of proper eyes-down techno infused with rhythmic reverb outbursts and a slow-building wash of delay. Hound Scales, meanwhile, coats "Tropical Fuck" in a thick layer of saturation, working it into a dense and distorted club track which eventually yields the spotlight to an otherworldly female vocal sample.
Man Out of Dubs is high-drama stuff, so much so that it could have easily come off sounding plain ridiculous. To its credit, though, Clouds pulls the whole thing off with enough skill and conviction to get away with its antics. The result is an EP that balances deadly serious grooves with a load of personality, all of which bodes well for whatever the pair releases next.