Hot on the heels of recent Top Ten hits from Pendulum and Chase & Status, London DJ and producer Nicholas Douwma, aka Sub Focus, is the latest artist to make the leap from the underground to the mainstream following the unexpected rejuvenation of the previously neglected drum'n'bass scene. After six years of filling dancefloors with his adrenaline-pumping brand of breakneck rhythms and warbling techno synths, he's recently scored his first Top 40 single, produced a number three hit for Example, and been asked to remix tracks for the likes of Dizzee Rascal, Basement Jaxx, and the Prodigy. His long-awaited, self-titled debut still focuses on his trademark sound, but also incorporates an eclectic fusion of futuristic house, dubstep, and electro-rock on 13 self-penned tracks which cleverly transcend his drum'n'bass beginnings. The spacy, orchestral first minute of atmospheric opener "Let the Story Begin," which echoes the neo-classical pop of Vangelis, indicates immediately that the album is more than just an extension of his DJ sets. "Could This Be Real" combines Linden Reeves' soulful tones with crunching basslines and huge '90s-inspired Italo house chords. "Move Higher" starts off with Fatboy Slim-esque breakbeats before amalgamating into a mesmerizing old-school electro-house stomper, complete with dirty subwoofer riffs and flashes of infectious ragga vocals, while "Rock It" is a body-popping slice of synth-funk, which borrows the same Breakwater sample as Daft Punk's "Robot Rock." Best of all is the hypnotic "Vapourise," which blends pulsating '80s drums, ambient new age electronica, piercing synth strings, and sinister, robotic spoken word to produce an intriguing but unsettling potential sci-fi theme. The album isn't as interesting when he reverts to more familiar territory. The understated "Splash" omits the I Blame Coco vocals featured on the single release, but its low-key, eerie, X-Files-esque instrumentation still provides a welcome change of pace from the album's prevalent frenetic nature, but "Timewarp" is a rather deranged dirge which wanders aimlessly over a repetitive, techno-charged five minutes, "Triple X" is a derivative acid-house-fused number which wrongly suggests the drum'n'bass genre hasn't moved on in the last 20 years, and the unusual use of a cowbell is the only inventive touch on the formulaic "Follow the Light." Die-hard drum'n'bass fans may grumble at the sound's continuing diversion into other dance genres, but Sub Focus is undoubtedly at its strongest when it does just that. Skip past the generic offerings and it's an often exhilarating listen which heralds the arrival of a potential new dance supremo. ~ Jon O'Brien, Rovi
Track samples provided courtesy of iTunes
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