The Sanctuary EP is the combined efforts of duo KOAN Sound and Asa, hailing from Bristol. As a city long pushing innovative, forward thinking electronic production, this extended play from three hugely talented artists is no different, wrestling with a multitude of influences at different tempos.
The EP is introduced by EP titled track, Sanctuary. We’re introduced by piano and strings bringing forth a classical seriousness that wouldn’t be out of place on a Hans Zimmer soundtrack. A blissful, chiming soundscape is prominent, with the subtle shuffling of a cabasa to add an early rhythmic suggestion. Before long, the rhythmic section plays out amidst that cinematic backdrop. It retains novel percussive elements in addition to the traditional snare and claps, something which is certainly a commonality in former Asa productions. It has that journey-like feel, with the melodic undercurrents offering a really cultured, world music angle to this opener. We’re slowly eased back into a subdued affair, where the chimes bow out just as they started. With that, Sanctuary ends, providing indications of compassionate electronica to continue through the EP.
Second track Starlite also benefits from the enduring formula of keys and strings, where a solitary keyed note becomes increasingly supported by a waves of the string ensemble. The whole rewind synth is also going on at the beginning. After more teasing percussive builds, the unexpected and almost intrusive emergence of the hats occur, leading to a neatly filtered build to the track’s crescendo. A sub bass bubbles underneath the piano and violin ensemble, will which serve to be a consistent formula throughout the EP. It’s an interesting and arcane juxtaposition, yet the two elements seem to partner up really well. Starlite has progressively become compassionate drum and bass, with a very, tight drum track, oozing with classy brushed snares. Deconstructed drums join the fray, with a breakdown leading to a well placed dialogue sample. It’s a scene setter, providing a wider context for this thought provoking track. Following this, Starlite is brilliantly metamorphosed into glitch hop track, still working against the harmonious classical backdrop. By rights, it shouldn’t work…but it does. This one closes out with classical and piano and the hum of city streets.
This Time Around is the only vocal track of the album, making it most accessible perhaps to the virgin listener. Koo is on vocal duties, giving lyrical content that’s forming a new angle for the listener. It still retains that low end, almost watery bass that is evident on the previous track. The backdrop works to incorporate non-musical audible elements by introducing running water, which brings forth imaginative qualities if you’re listening hard enough. Again, the most impressive feature is the structural nuances, giving us a well devised journey for each track throughout. The producers are clearly not happy to establish a consistent rhythm pattern for the duration of any of these tracks, which makes them all refreshing.
Fuego is another example of KOAN Sound and ASA’s chameleonic approaches, delivering a track with a certain bass house identity with a huge sub-kick to give it that different stamp. Sonically, it has future garage connotations – exercising a synth that would resonate with their contemporary, Submerse. Where bass is concerned, it still has that drum and bass/dubstep bass thread running through it, only having a completely unique set of elements above in in the audio spectrum. There is a serious cowbell inclusion – it develops with the claps and clicks to become an almost calypso-like dynamic. The intermittent use of vocal snippets throughout add a nice measure of texture until the track breaks down into a refrain in which we’re only left with those juvenile, fun synthesisers. It bows out, leaving us with another surprise in curtain caller, Tetsuo’s Redemption.
This one may have something to do with an eighties Japanese cult film about a man who becomes metallic, or perhaps not. Either way, it has iron strength (rubbish pun intended). We’ve got high-end filtered drums leading to dubstep aggression in a 4/4 format, closing out to dubstep breakdowns throughout. It’s more akin to a Noisia track, being very upfront and strong, but it’s certainly a far cry from the harmonic sensibilities earlier on in the EP. It’s because of this that it might seem a little misplaced on first hearing but there’s no doubt that the sonic progression would have a bit more clarity on a full length LP (yes, that was a request).
Backhanded compliments aside, KOAN Sound and ASA have presented five tracks with consistently strong levels of production. We’re also given a real genre crossing final product, which shows the talent at work. The EP, out on Inspected, is available on iTunes and is far better value for what you’re getting than the current Pumpkin Lattes flying off Starbucks‘ shelves. I’ll let you weigh that one up.