Ever since this handful of Bristol-based producers—who, in various configurations, record as Kahn, Vessel, Jabu, El Kid, Zhou, Ishan Sound, Killing Sound, Gorgon Sound, REI, and Baba Yaga—formed an alliance in 2010, it's been obvious that Young Echo's creative intention is as broad as it is purposeful. The crew extracts the sophistication of both modern and antiquated club rhythms, from dub to 2-step to dubstep, and blends it with a more leftfield aesthetic borrowed from the world of experimental and electronic noise music. Previously, this has taken place via a scattershot array of smaller releases, but the entire collective has come together on Nexus, a full-length effort that whips Young Echo's artistic impulses into a potent and superbly flowing album.
Those who were introduced to the group through preview single "Blood Sugar" will find nothing else that matches its catchy, husky sweetness. That's because Nexus—even in its most functional and sweet-tasting moments, such as the warm smears of viscous synth and the filtered 2-step beats of "My Child My Chain"—is a far cry from the polished and pop-leaning sound that dominates the current fairway between the UK's underground and mainstream spaces.
Instead, the group's love of tape echo and improvised modular-synth recordings gives the album a rough-hewn, physical texture—and an oddly contemplative sense of soulfulness, too. To an even greater extent than on Vessel's brilliant Order of Noise, the tweaking of echoing machinery continually punctuates the album. Listening to Nexus, it's clear that the group's love for the accidental potential and aural phenomenon of audio hardware is irrepressible, and even celebrated. Opener "Radial Sheaves" offers barely more than a murmur of rhythm, let alone melody, underneath its fluid metal shapes and granular flow. As the LP proceeds, cascades of rippling, noteless synth play and scattering sheet-metal reverberation, draped in delay, are some of the foremost motifs, despite the fact that they're barely musical. Nexus ends with a coldly riveting manipulation of sound that twinkles with the same sort of cosmic depth that's usually reserved for the likes of Underground Resistance's Mad Mike, and it does so using only the most intangible wisps of structure.
After drifting through the distracted, synth-poppy half-step of "Jupiter Rise," the album first flashes into real human consciousness with the snappy-yet-contemplative "Voices on the Water." Over the sub thuds and grainy, refracting hip-hop beat, resident MC Jabu's words glint like silver amongst gravel. The impression left by his simple, powerful voice throughout the album embodies the real substance behind Nexus' serious intentions.
In the group's own words, there are explicitly made parallels to the Bristol trip-hop trinity of Tricky, Massive Attack and Portishead, and the similarity is there, especially in the record's dark-eyed, downtempo, and subtly melodic soundscapes, not to mention Jabu's carefully nonchalant verses. There is, however, a far wider wealth of musical history to connect with this group of young producers, from cross-genre dub legend Rob Smith to Bristol dubstep deities Peverelist and Pinch.
Perhaps that's why releasing under the collective banner of Young Echo clearly isn't about moving away from solo projects and embarking on total group collaboration. Though it's encouraging that this crew of young producers would be so focused on making challenging music, that shared intention manifests in numerous forms on Nexus. Kahn's sound—true dubstep, with a perfected throb-and-snap and a samurai-like poise—comes through on "Umoja," while the muddied, brooding dreamworld of "Crowd Sacred" has to be the product of Vessel's ruggedly rusted touch. Taken as a whole, the aim of Nexus is less about making a cohesive musical statement and more of a communal promotion of ideas. After all, the members of Young Echo share history, influences, and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of place. Given that, coming together makes sense, and the results are undoubtedly worthwhile.