With a label as central to the last decade of dubstep as Tectonic, there's a temptation to frame its releases in terms of the genre's chronology and merely view each new offering as something that's looking ahead, glancing behind, or creating a parallel present. It's the latter possibility which makes the fourth volume of the Tectonic Plates series such an exciting proposition. While the Bristol record hub has always delivered the goods, it does so with less hype and crossover potential at stake than many of its more fashionable counterparts. The imprint's relatively low profile could perhaps be traced back to label boss Pinch and his ear for dense, overcast, techno-inflected sounds that hold true to dubstep's darker, moodier roots. That said, there's something a little more complicated at work on the label's new compilation, Tectonic Plates Volume 4, which breaks up the imprint's inherent darkness with a few rays of sunshine—namely, by putting an extra focus on artists who have loosely redirected what it means to be a part of its esteemed roster.
Distal might carry the highest profile of Tectonic's recent breakthrough acts, and his giddy "Kerplunk"—a shiny rush of pots-and-pans percussion, shivering drum rolls, stuttery handclaps, truncated rave chords, and Hulk Hogan namedrops—is typical of the label's brighter fare. Opening the volume, Jakes' contribution, "Rounds," is a bit sneakier. Its Gregorian chords and distant, locomotive percussion feign at bleakness, but the bass hits and teasing builds provide enough of an upbeat undercurrent that the track's wobbly, fist-pumping peak feels 175 degrees short of a 180. Guido's "State of Joy" should be self-explanatory, as squeaky synths and catchy electric piano melodies move things along like a summertime weekend afternoon—even its snares sound sunny. "Drum Boss," Mumdance & Logos' 808-detonating take on trap tropes, takes things one step further. Shotgun blasts are answered with dustings of magic-wand glitter, making for a war of attrition between macho posturing and unselfconscious cheer.
The heavy stuff still stands strong, though, no matter what form it takes. Detroit drum & bass futurist Sinistarr joins up with Seattle's Texel for the off-kilter "Decibell," a production which fuses the alarm-buzz aesthetic of classic Distance sides to a churning boogie shuffle that's good for five minutes of anxious foot-tapping. Armour's "Skylark" blows Afro-Cuban grooves into a wall-sized portrait of a 1000-volt bassline flanked by laser-blast counter-rhythms. Pursuit Grooves' "Hard Beginnings" is a mournfully hard-pulsing cut where ghostly choirs and distant bells are knocked around in the air by floor-rumbling digital kicks. More traditional and dark dubstep tracks like Kryptic Minds' "Convoluted" and Steve Digital's "Larry Shite on the Night" round out the collection's batch of classically minded crowd-pleasers.
It could be said that Tectonic Plates Volume 4 explores dubstep's past, present, and future, and actually does fairly well on all fronts. After nearly a decade in the game, it appears that Tectonic's actual place in the dubstep continuum is wherever—and whenever—it wants to be.