Over the past few years, LA production duo Nguzunguzu (which comprises Daniel Pineda and Asma Maroof) has established itself as a leading proponent of the hybridized, polygenre tendencies that dominate a particular segment of today's bass-music underground. The pair keeps its release schedule sparse—the Skycell EP is the duo's first offering since last year's Warm Pulse EP—seeming instead to prefer to work on a diverse array of projects, most notably and recently producing two tracks on Kelela's stunning Cut 4 Me mixtape, and also collaborating with Fatima Al Qadiri and J-Cush as Future Brown. Still, Nguzunguzu's latest is a refreshing reminder of exactly what makes everything the duo touches so appealing—it's an intoxicating combination of agile, polyrhythmic beats, meandering, grime-indebted synths, and a specifically bass-minded headiness.
Like previous Nguzunguzu releases, the cover art (this time designed by Fade to Mind label head Kingdom) gives a good indication of where the duo is coming from. Depicting a CGI-generated mountain range overlain with a hex grid, the imagery evokes a Hollywood-blockbuster-style dystopia, presenting an ominous future reality that pairs perfectly with the music. Skycell is largely a continuation of Nguzunguzu's already-existent catalog, and presents seven tracks of, as always, admirable rhythmic dexterity. Nguzunguzu's sound—and indeed that of the whole Fade to Mind axis—has become increasingly indebted to the murky, controlled chaos of grime, and this is no more evident than on a track like "Break In," which combines dense polyrhythmic scree with disorienting, detuned synths. The track's pitched-down vocals interlock with menacingly deep sub-bass to create something truly formidable. Elsewhere, opening track "Foam Feathers" evokes videogame soundscapes with its loping bass and naturalistic chimes. "Harp Bell" is one of the EP's more aggressive cuts, with insistent kicks and synthesized strings that sound like a mongrel combination of funky and grime. Listening to the EP, it becomes apparent that Nguzunguzu only seems to be getting better at straddling the line between seriousness and over-the-top drama in its music. The record's press release calls Skycell "a game you don't know you're playing, a hostile environment where your mind takes a vacation, but your body is in a cage." Pineda and Maroof seem to be committed, not just to the creation of immersive sonic environments, but to evoking and disrupting whole sets of ideologies in doing so.