Bristolian beatmaker Joker first achieved acclaim in 2007 with his soulful, fuzzed out take on dubstep and grime dubbed "Purple." His first release, Kapsize EP, came out when he was sixteen years old and immediately exhibited Joker's wholly unique perspective – moody, retro-soul as spoken through futurist, fuzzed-out, blown-out bass. Dubbed XLR8R's "King of Bass Music" in 2009, he followed up with his debut album The Vision in 2011. It was his purple masterwork and remains one the of the more timeless dubstep-based albums from that golden era of UK bass.
Joker seemed to have gone a little quiet after that, though. A lot of guys who caught shine in the bloom and burst of dubstep, from Skream to Skrillex, struggled to dissociate their music from that tag as they moved forward. Joker kept mum, though, only releasing a couple singles and a remix EP in the interim four years. He's always let the music do the talking for him, though, so when word began to spread of Mainframe, his sophomore album, we knew that we could expect a statement.
We got the jumpstart on the listen to Mainframe, released today on Joker's own Kapsize label. The album is an ambitious, sprawling opus of soul that announces Joker's depth and maturity as a producer and re-asserts his untouchable knack for bringing the heavy, heady bassweight. This isn't a dance music album, though. It's a thematically drawn concept album. Yeah, the beat drops with some regularity, but the composition weaves through tangents, almost operating as a collage at points, but always with Joker's signature aesthetic.
The record goes so far outside of the UK bass comfort zone that, at times, you forget that you're listening to anything resembling dubstep - At times it is cinematic, dramatic, pop-centered and moody, and at others it's a glitched-out, heads down lazer rave. Most guys involved in the same space have neither the ambition nor nous to attempt to weave anything together.
Mainframe is an early contender for Album of the Year. You won't easily find another LP in dance music that so enthusiastically takes on the challenge of crafting an album. It manages to restate Joker's remarkable sonic identity while establishing himself as a keen composer.