A few weeks ago, Fulgeance dropped the self-released Mini Club EP, a seven-track foray into the French beatmaker's vision of what club music should be. Through that EP and releases such as his debut full-length, last year's To All Of You, Fulgeance has solidified his reputation as a purveyor of the rough-and-tumble sounds of "low club," a self-coined genre encompassing influences that range from the synth-soaked sounds of the '80s to the experimentally minded vibes of Southern California's beat scene. In fact, if there's anything that Fulgeance's "low club" productions have in common, it's a propensity for heavy low end, a bold and brash sound that the tunesmith revisits on his new LP, Step Thru.
Many tracks, such as "Raw" and "Deep Black," are firmly rooted in beat-scene ethos; the former finds the crisp boom-bap of the percussion snapping beneath nostalgic, videogame-style synths, while "Deep Black" is centered around wonky, frenetic synth squelches that verge on subsuming the entire beat. "Wet" creeps along with spaced-out synths and assorted stabs, but Fulgeance—in typical fashion—makes sure not to skimp on the bass, which in this case is a reverberating, contorting beast that winds its way above the lumbering, 808-heavy beat. The otherworldly atmospherics of "Square" play host to a similar affair; underneath glistening chimes, a fat, meaty bassline belies the track's true purpose: rattling speakers. The straightforward, no-frills big bass and drum sounds of "Tied Up" continue the formula, while the wonky synth sound of "Disco Hard" plays host to a lumbering beat made up of stomps, claps, and even the occasional cowbell.
Although Step Thru tends to stick to a relatively straightforward—yet effective—low-end-centered approach, its most exciting moments arise when Fulgeance strays away from the beat-scene template. On tracks like the opening "Whut It Iz (feat. FreshDaily)" and "Break Them Down (feat. MC Yinka)," Fulgeance's bass-heavy bravado takes a backseat to hip-hop rhymes. While the synth cascades and braggadocio rhymes of the former track delve into more club-friendly vibes, the subdued production of "Break Them Down" ultimately creates one of the most enjoyable moments on the album, both in the song's original and instrumental versions. Fulgeance still injects the track with a healthy supply of low end, but it bubbles beneath the surface instead of gushing out and overtaking the mix, allowing the jazzy synth effects to warp and contort without interruption. Yinka is no slouch, either; the MC's spaced out, half-sung musings provide a fitting accompaniment for the track's heady vibes. The simultaneously futuristic and retro vibes of lead track "Step Thru" are no different; Fulgeance wraps a bouncy, sinewy synth melody—which sounds lifted straight from the '80s—around steady and oddly danceable percussion. London beatsmith Kelpe closes out the album with his reworking of "Step Thru," which smothers the already danceable track in a heavy helping of funky bass and a party-friendly stomp before injecting energetic breakbeat percussion into the mix.
Overall, Step Thru is an enjoyable listen, and it certainly seems as though Fulgeance has found and is slowly refining his niche as a producer. But while his "low club" and beat-scene stylings certainly provide a plethora of catchy moments, they can sometimes seem a little formulaic. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as the album doesn't seem to have been made with the intention of revolutionizing beat music; Fulgeance is simply sticking with a formula that works for him.