Rating: 8.5 / Format: CD / Label: Punch Drunk
There’s almost no point in writing a review of this record, so self-evident is its brilliance. But for the benefit of those not already wise to the seismic talent of Rob Smith, I’m going to go ahead and write one.
Making a name for himself in the late 80s with his legendary DJ sets at St Pauls dances and then his early production work with Massive Attack, Smith went on to extrapolate the soulful, breakbeat-led Bristol sound with Smith & Mighty and later the jungle-leaning More Rockers, always clinging tightly to a dubwise sensibility. After some major label stress in the late 90s and an ensuing extended break from production, Smith continued to evolve throughout the 00s, occasionally coming out with flashes of genius like 2002’s Smith & Mighty track ‘B-Line Fi Blow’, a sub-heavy garage growler that stills sounds fresh today.
However, it was with the birth of his RSD alter ego that Smith begun to capture the underground’s collective imagination again: hooking up with Punch Drunk, the label run by Tom ‘Peverelist’ Ford out of the Rooted Records store in Bristol, Smith released ‘Corner Dub’ (Blue & Red Mix)’/’Pretty Bright Light’, a two-tracker that both originated and perfected what we’ve now come to think of as the inimitable RSD sound. Steeped in Jamaica dancehall flavour and topped off with a certain Bristolian je ne sais quoi, Smith’s recent output is undeniably, demonstrably dubstep, but has a lineage and a pedigree all its own. There’s something classic, or rather classicist, about every RSD production; the experience that Smith brings to the mixing desk is audible in every note.
Good Energy collects the majority of tracks from the RSD catalogue to date, including not just the three Punch Drunk singles but also material recorded for Japanese label Angel’s Egg and Pinch’s Earwax and Tectonic imprints. Of the omissions, the most unfortunate is ‘On Deck’/’Accepted’ – released by R8 Records last year, it’s arguably the purplest peak of Smith’s current purple patch.
Anyway, there’s no messing with what is included: ‘Corner Dub’ manages at once to sound incredibly bulky and incredibly agile, something akin to an elephant chicaning around town on a skateboard, while ‘Speeka Box’ and ‘Kingfisher’ are storming soundsystem crushers that privilege dub over step, but never once sound sluggish or overly smoked-out. Indeed, Smith’s work is characterised by a certain brightness, a rambunctiousness – a good energy, if you will. His succulent basslines wobble, but not in the gratingly metallic fashion that "wobble" tends to denote in contemporary dubstep, ahem, discourse.
Rob Smith remains his own man, one with a distinctive but unpretentious musical vision that continues to bear seriously tasty fruit. If for some reason you’ve slept on any or all of these singles, this cheap-as-chips CD has your name on it.