Dance music fans are likely familiar with the evolution of drum'n'bass from its breakbeat hardcore roots through the rhythmic upheaval of jungle and, eventually, into the washed-out, joyless navel-gazing it eventually fell into near the end of the 1990s before UK garage stole its spotlight. That was a lesson hard-learned, so it's understandable (and fortunate) that this decade's significant beat-driven innovations from the UK have gotten only less genteel with time. Compare an early dubstep classic like one of Horsepower Productions' plenty-heavy 2001 singles with some of the outlandish stuff Joker or Zomby have dropped this year, and you can hear what it means for a genre to jump from strength to strength, advancing without diluting. Moving up in this arena means you don't necessarily need to get more tasteful-- and if you do, you just offset it by getting brasher, too.
Evidence of this rarely comes clearer than it does on an album like Silkie's City Limits Volume 1. The London producer broke out big last year with a succession of singles, including the tellingly-titled "Jazz Dubstep", that blended fusiony sophistication with the archetypal shuddering bass wobbles and tightly-built drum patterns that accompanied the genre's mid-decade expansion. The 13 new tracks on City Limits (nine on the triple-12" edition) sound like a wider mission statement of that style, and that this album pulls it off without sounding like an exercise in mannered noodling is a cause for relief. The best moments on City Limits perfect a certain wide-ranging formula: ethereal, borderline-ambient synthesizer chords billow like fluffy airbrushed clouds over deep skank-motion rhythms, jittery breaks, or agitated melodies that keep them grounded in body-moving turf.
So while there's subtlety and refinement in the melodies-- like the fluorescent glow of the synths in "Turvy", or the ultra-smooth digital sax riff in "Beauty"-- the beats knock hard, trembling inside subwoofers and pushing back so heavily you're practically forced to hear every single note in a rhythmic context. At its rawest-- "Spark" and its waist-winding, rave-gone-skanking rhythm; the chattering, long-arm-swinging lope of "Sty"-- Silkie's productions sound a bit like Benga's wobbly, bristling aesthetic having Blade Runner visions. There are subtle nods towards breakbeat and jungle, too, like the choppy, pitched-up chirping vocal samples and Atari bomb-drops in "Quasar" that sound like they could've come from a 1994 Bay B Kane joint.
And even when it all gets pushed to extents as absurd as the eight-minute "Planet X"-- a deep churn of mousetrap percussion and tremulous, rubber-legged bass punctuated with '84-style funk flash on some Jam/Lewis business-- there's more than enough force in its beat to keep entropy at bay. Funny, then, that even with the knack for extended vamps exhibited on this album, the biggest highlight should also be the most succinct song on the record. The Mizz Beats collaboration "Purple Love", with its restless, stammering arpeggio bassline and thickly congealing waves of sweeping pads, is dubstep at its funkiest and most euphoric. It's almost doing City Limits Volume 1 a disservice to call it retrofuturism-- such a tendency has rarely sounded much less indebted to a caricatured past or a cliched tomorrow. And it's good to know that even in the wake of a forward-thinking genre's continued commercial acceptance, it's still possible to keep pushing the limits-- wobbling without falling down.
— Nate Patrin, August 28, 2009