Available on: Apollo EP
The recent R&S renaissance over the last couple of years has been something of a joy to witness. By capturing the likes of James Blake, Pariah and Blawan on the cusp of their respective supernovas, the imprint has repositioned itself as one of the most reliable and forward-thinking dance music labels out there.
After such a natural return, it seems kind of appropriate that ambient satellite Apollo be reactivated to provide a soothing afterglow to R&S’ predominantly dancefloor-centric output. Mancunian producer Joe McBride – a dab hand at crafting rich, warm and deep textures as Synkro – provides Apollo’s first release. The Broken Promises EP find Synkro appropriately, if somewhat unsurprisingly, diving into the emotional depths of bass-driven music.
Opener ‘Broken Promise’ lurches along at an almost staggeringly slow 85bpm, underpinned by a softly muffled 4/4 kick. There’s little in the way of head-nodding comforts, but McBridge’s synth pads are given plenty to space to wash and wane. The short vocal samples are smothered in reverb and delay, and the moonlit piano loop is particularly memorable. The track avoids the risks inherent in many ambient-leaning bass-driven tunes: it sticks in the listener’s mind long after it fades out.
The two 130bpm tunes that sit in the middle of the EP are a little different. ‘Memories of Love’ has similarly expansive pads and floating vocals, but its half-time kick-snare pattern and shaking hats are somewhat more welcoming. ‘Why Don’t You’ switches things up: a fuzzy, growling bass lick weaves in between sleazy vocal cuts and rapidly recoiling drums. The results recall his dubstep-influenced material from recent years, but the subtle menace is replaced with something much smoother.
It’s that lack of menace, however, that could potentially upset some listeners. The EP’s obviously gorgeous, but it flirts with being a little too clean, too smooth, too crisp, too easy on the ears. In contrast with other reviewers, I find the closer, ‘Knowledge’, to be the highlight of the release. Its unreservedly tribal drum pattern is set against a morphing bed of low-end that only enhances the power of McBride’s pad-work. At seven minutes, ‘Knowledge’ asks more from the listener than the rest of the EP, but in return you’re transported to an otherworldly place where your imagination is let free. Something I think Apollo prided itself on a decade ago, and will be happy to know it’s still capable of now.