Rising UK producer Rob McAndrews (a.k.a Airhead) is a musician of unquestionable ambition. His R&S debut—the doubleheader of "Wait" b/w "South Congress," released back in March—saw McAndrews assimilating a brain-achingly broad spectrum of influences, blending scattershot post-dubstep beats, fey indie guitar lines, post-rock builds and an erratically sliced Karen O vocal to ends that were unique, ambitious and, ultimately, opinion dividing. This follow-up 12" however, largely ditches those ties to indie rock, dragging things back in the direction of the dancefloor, albeit in an equally eclectic and sprawling manner.
A-side cut "Pyramid Lake" instantly finds McAndrews in more straightforward rhythmic territory; where past releases have often shown a penchant for ambient breaks filled with little more than long tails of reverb, here the track hangs on to a juddering shaker and hi-hat backbone. The acoustic guitar chords of "Wait" are replaced by dub-like drum breaks, pitchy synth jabs, and vocal syllables vaguely reminiscent of "Pembroke," his underrated collaboration with a then barely known James Blake. The whole thing builds towards a surprisingly aggressive percussive crescendo that could be snatched out of some classic grime instrumental—it's still hardly a conventional song structure, but the rise in energy is enough to do away with the feeling of aimlessness that some disliked about "Wait."
It's "Black Ink," however, that proves to be the choice cut here. It's a rolling, off-kilter percussive number, aligned to the kind of forward-looking dance music that Hessle Audio trades in; the track is fixed around heavily swung rhythmic noises, an addictive descending bassline, and occasional blasts of synth noise, before eventually unfolding into a wash of melodic pads. It's a culmination of all the promise McAndrews has shown to date, a production that's at once intricate and hard hitting (as the artist himself demonstrated to devastating effect with its use in his excellent Resident Advisor mix earlier this year), staying true to his love of all-over-the-place eclecticism while remaining repetitive enough to be remarkably catchy.
Charting Airhead's musical output in 2012 can occasionally feel like mentoring an extremely gifted, yet intermittently troublesome teenager; there's no doubt that McAndrews is one of the most technically skilled, idea-laden producers emerging from the UK right now, and when he's on the money—as he is here—he can produce remarkably good, and unique, results. But his work occasionally verges into the realm of being difficult, showy, and eclectic for the sake of it. This release points towards a higher level of compositional maturity though. It looks like McAndrews is beginning to focus his plethora of influences into a more clearly defined identity, and it's one that suits him nicely.