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Overcast Sound - Beneath the Grain


Entropy Records

In a complicated world it can be refreshing when things turn out exactly as you expect them. Imagine a dub techno act called OVERCAST SOUND (capitals apparently non-optional). Imagine what they would sound like. Now, imagine them living in Berlin for 3 months and recording an album based on the places they visited. Well done; you are basically correct.

Beneath The Grain is not an album to surprise the listener. Just look at the track lengths - the obligatory 2-minute intro unfolding into six 8-minute-plus titans (with an incidental 5-minute interlude). I’m no expert, but to my ear there’s little variation in a sound relying on tried-and-tested dub techno signifiers: on-the-beat echo, padded kicks, and synth washes that can only inspire workhorse adjectives like “atmospheric” and “cinematic”.

Granted, the production is faultless and one addition to the standard template is initially welcome: a quasi-granular crunch, processed and ping-ponging around the stereo image. When it launches from the swirl of “Devil’s Mountain” as the third track begins, it’s excellent, recalling burnt-in images of lasers through dry ice, or the time-honoured hatch-opening cliché after an alien landing. But skip to 20 minutes later, after “Lackadaisical” and “Run” have offered apparently endless variations on the same theme, and it becomes vaguely grating.

The only solution is to let the music fade into the background, stop concentrating, and just enjoy the subconscious resonance with your alpha waves (a.k.a. “ignoring it”). Although, if you do this, you might miss that “Templehof” is the strongest track on the album. It doesn’t deviate from the formula greatly but somehow seems more propulsive, with the harsher digital elements organically toned down into a more hypnotic and appealing combination.

Dub techno gets occasional bad press round these parts, and I would imagine that Beneath The Grain is not going to change anyone’s mind about the health (or otherwise) of the genre. It would be unfair to judge the album entirely on this though, and a couple of good moments mean this might be worth considering if you are in the market for another jaunt down a well-worn path.
Sam Stagg


Reader Comments (3)

Dub techno also gets generally bad press with me these days. It has become very stagnant with little in the way of development or new sounds.
What I love about Beneath The Grain, is that its creators have really put some solid thought in to sound design and texture. Sure, there's lots of familiar dub tech sounds in there but this album is so much more than just dub techno.
Definitely an album to give time to and let develop. At first I really liked it, but I have come back to it again recently, and have to say "like" has become a lot more like "love". Kicked back in the sofa, this playing, a great book, and a drink is a damned fine way of spending an hour or so.

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeteS

Thanks for the comment Pete. I take your point, this is an enjoyable album to put on in the background as something that occasionally wheedles itself into conscious thought (in a good way). I suppose the question is, is that enough? Personally, I found that the effort required to pay full attention was not rewarded with the depth I had expected after my first listen.

April 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSam

Fair enough Sam, and this is not the place for debate I know but what really concerns me about "... depth I had expected after my first listen", and music in general these days is that it has almost become too much a disposable commodity, and we speak of it accordingly.
Too often we expect instant gratification, and we don't give so much music the time it deserves to develop and deepen. We all have music that may not have grabbed us on initial listen(s), to only have our opinions changed, once we give it time and multiple plays, especially when in different headspaces or circumstances.
I suppose however as a reviewer, you don't have the luxury of time to do this, and this may be to the detriment to the artist or producer.

April 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeteS

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