By Greg Salter
“What is appealing about the medium of marble, or any sculptural stone for that matter (my favorite is Bardiglio, similar to black marble but with veins of silver running through it), is the controlled sensuality of it.”
The above is a quote from Ms Muzik Channel, in conversation with Jam City and with whom she collaborated on a number of visual projects to go alongside his new album Classical Curves. Her phrase “controlled sensuality” goes some way to described the seductive, half-human, half-alien sounds on this record, a rich, disorientating, carefully-constructed jumble of the real and the fake that makes genre feel like an irrelevance.
Classical Curves takes up the sensuality of marble as a way of soundtracking sex – here, sex is ideal, exquisite, beautiful, but also cold, frozen and little bit uncanny. There’s the camera flashes that punctuate ‘Her’, turning the track’s unnamed beauty into the sum of the glimpses granted in the spaces between the sound of blinding light. “What?/What?/Flash” goes a disembodied voice, with the whole thing sounding like the pummeling rhythms of grime have been given hair extensions, a thick, shiny layer of makeup and a frozen, botoxed non-expression. It sounds, brilliantly, like nothing else.
On top of this, Jam City, real name Jack Latham, skilfully takes on control as a way of constructing space in his tracks – beats echo in a vast, gleaming emptiness of conference centre lobbies or shopping malls, and it’s the kind of space that’ll have you standing in the middle of these tracks, slack-jawed with a mixture of disgust and awe. ‘The Courts’ batters you into submission with the sounds of basketball smacking against the ground and trainers squeaking on waxed floors – it’s a bit like how a Nike advert might reverberate in the head of a ‘roid-raged wannabe athlete. Meanwhile, ‘Club Thanz’ relies on synths and metallic hi-hats to gesture to the superficial, fluorescent details of a nightclub – it’s like a 21st century hiphop instrumental without the beats, and you can almost imagine Drake slumped in the VIP corner, staring at his phone.
Classical Curves builds on these themes throughout its eleven astonishing tracks – space, the city, the body, sex, robotics – until they all feel like one big entity. Take ‘How We Relate To The Body’ for example, which sounds like a fashion show collapsing in on itself, all house synth stabs and techno breakdowns in a vacuum, surface and steel with human beings buried in there somewhere. The two parts of ‘Hyatt Park Nights’ seem to encompass you completely – the sounds of dogs barking, car engines and pure shards of industrial noise are as unsettling as they are seedy.
The artists on the roster at Night Slugs have been working towards this kind of aesthetic for a few years now, shaking off any concerns about genre and embracing a kind of futurism that can be as alienating as it is thrilling. While full-lengths by L-Vis 1990 and Egyptrixx headed in this direction, Jam City’s Classical Curves feels like the first time this has been achieved to such a high standard across a whole album. Though it can be a disorienting listen, Jam City has created a singular, jarring and consistently exciting album, and ultimately one that has to rank among the year’s best.