sun 20/04/2014

CD: Joker - The Vision | New music reviews, news & interviews

CD: Joker - The Vision

Can Bristol's synth-funk soundsystem wunderkind live up to his early promise?

Joker's The Vision album

Joker, aka 22 year old Bristolian Liam McLean, is one of the most individual talents of the dubstep/grime generation. His long run of dancefloor-directed single releases, some originally recorded when he was in his early teens, showed natural gifts for finding the funk in the sparsest rhythms and for frazzlingly catchy melodic synth riffs which meant his productions leapt out of DJ sets wherever and whenever they were played. Now, following a quiet 18 months, his debut album shows that he's not content to rest on his laurels.

The Vision is a high-gloss affair. McLean has always been a fanatical lover of technology, and it's clear he's been getting the most out of the lavish studio he has built with with his lucrative DJ fees. Every surface here is gleaming, every rhythm intricate, every rapped or sung guest vocal – on half the 12 tracks – technologically enhanced to match the most expensive and expansive of US R&B. It's extremely odd at at first if you're used to the starkness of those early Joker singles: the shock of the new that came with his bold and bizarre productions isn't there, and it feels like he's gone for generic commercialism.

However, more than a cursory listen reveals that instinct to be completely wrong: the old weirdness is still there in bucketloads, and this album is the definition of a grower. Especially on headphones, or ramped up loud, you can hear gloriously twisted and psychedelic synth curlicues escaping around the edges of even the most conventional sounding tunes; though a track like “On My Mind” might be quite American-sounding, it's up there with the best, most Prince-influenced work Timbaland did for Justin Timberlake, which is no small compliment. And best of all, there's a special edition (vinyl only at the moment) forthcoming with instrumental versions of all the vocal tunes so the sheer physical impact of the production and arrangements can be experienced at its most direct.

On headphones, or ramped up loud, you can hear gloriously twisted and psychedelic synth curlicues escaping around the edges of even the most conventional sounding tunes

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