Friday 6 March 2009

Sober & Dribbla
“The Butcher’s Ball”
(Self-Released 2009)

The normal route a sophomore release from most artists takes is to diversify away from the creative confines of their debut album. But Bristol-based Hip Hop duo Sober & Dribbla are far from normal. Rather than attempt to expand on the parameters of their first LP Freaks Speak Dark, they’ve inverted the process completely with follow-up The Butcher’s Ball. In the hands of others this tactic might have been disastrous, but something about the musical microcosm the pair produce becomes bold and invigorating in their control. The Butchers Ball is the sonic equivalent of a knife being honed down to a glittering spike, before being punched directly through your heart.

The dark elements that made Freaks Speak Dark so electrifying are still present and correct, but here they are filled out with a renewed swagger and it’s abundantly clear that the duo have a total confidence in their craft. The pragmatic production of the previous album has given way to something much more personal here; beats and bars are refined to such a degree the album cries out for repeated playback to peel away the dense layers of sound embedded into each track.

Dribbla’s expansive lyrical content is a world away from your average rapper. Citing influences like Joy Division and Nick Cave, the bars he creates are immersed in a bleak world of anger and despair shot through with a wry sense of redemption. The cruel frailties of the human condition are cut apart and held up to the naked light for all to see, melting into each other – sex and pain, hope and death. This aggressive sexual noir permeates tracks like Clamp (“I dragged her though a nightmare so she couldn't’t dream of me”) but is tempered with a maudlin search for solace in the feminine that borders on the quasi-religious (“I thrust my rotten heart into her so it might get clean”).

It’s a unique style that creates perfect synergy with Sober’s mutated beats. Elements of Dubstep permeate the core of the production away from the normal parameters of Hip Hop – here he extrapolates an extraordinarily wide palette of sounds and grinds them into new and sinister shapes. When it’s on target, it’s sublime; the unexpected explosion into a beautiful melody halfway through Angels Dressed Ugly before the track collapses back into the sucker-punch lyrics (“They carve their names deep into my wounds / Angels dressed ugly with their big black boots”) is truly mesmerising, rolling drums and ascending chords rising up like a wounded choke in the throat.

There’s a definite affinity with the current crop of Bristol mavericks making their mark in music right now; on tracks like Angels Dressed Ugly and the title track, the dark aquatic echoes of artists like Guido and Joker are connected into the sonic lineage throughout the album. There is a creeping sense of claustrophobic bassweight that elevates the album beyond anything as throwaway as a mere facsimile of the city’s current styles; here the pair has developed something brand new and individual to them alone. It’s an accomplished second release that deserves to be heard by a wider public – fans of Hip Hop, Dubstep, Grime or any music pushing an innovative and unique agenda will find something to cherish within the highly personal work of The Butchers Ball.

The Butchers Ball is available to download for free on from Monday 16th March.