Review: The Bug Vs Earth – Concrete Desert


Darkness has always been a key element in the music of Kevin Martin (The Bug), it’s evident all the way through from his early releases which experimented with Ragga and Dancehall to his infamous 2008 album ‘London Zoo’ and even up to his most recent work in ‘Iceman’. It is of great intrigue, therefore, that his forthcoming album on Ninja Tune is a collaboration with Doom Metal pioneer and fellow purveyor of all things dark, Dylan Carlson (Earth).

The two artists have been active for roughly the same period of time within their own spheres, with The Bug earlier operating under his ‘Techno Animal’ alias amongst others. During the recording of 2014’s ‘Angels and Devils’ LP, The Bug and Earth began recording and writing together, the result being two tracks ‘Boa’ and ‘Cold’, that were excluded from the LP but were released separately on an EP of their own. Martin explains that this is because he felt “they had developed a singular life of their own, outside the identity of that album”.

When Ninja Tune asked the pair to perform in LA together they took the opportunity to get back in the studio, the end result was this, the ‘Concrete Desert’ LP which Martin says is in some ways a “Los Angeles set companion piece to London Zoo”.

The first thing that strikes you is that familiar word, darkness. The opening track – ‘City Of Fallen Angels’ – is an exercise in just that. Carlson’s melancholic guitar is layered with deep, distorted atmospherics that gradually evolve into a wall of sound. White noise buzzes around the top end, with ethereal harmonics providing added depth to the soundscape.

‘Gasoline’ follows, initial atmospherics are soon accompanied by a thumping kick pattern. The expectancy at this point is of a dubstep track, with deep bass tones and that classic 140 swagger. However, Carlson’s guitar soon cuts through, a gigantic wall of sound that changes your perception of the track within an instant. It’s a quite captivating juxtaposition of two genres, unique to the two artists on display.

The fourth track on the album ‘Snakes vs Rats’ is the first single from it, and it’s not difficult to understand why. The opening is a deep, menacing, slow beat accompanied by a rich bass. Trancey synths soon join in with Carlson’s guitar, the distortion applied is aggressive, but fits the general timbre perfectly. It’s another strange pick ’n’ mix of sounds, with hats and percussion ripped straight from a drum machine, accompanied by ethereal soundscapes and that ever present Drone Metal guitar. It does work though.

‘American Dream’ is a long, long track. At 10:17 it’s the second longest on the album. Although the darkness prevails massively on this track we do hear a much cleaner guitar sound that gently moves between the same few notes for it’s duration. The menace is instead provided by The Bug, fat, distorted synths sweep around, with hissy white noise almost sounding like the sea. If it does evoke images of the beach however they are of an incredibly stormy one, there’s electrical sounding rattles scattered about that, in this analogy, sound like lighting fizzing above, threatening to crash down at any moment. It’s almost apocalyptic.

‘Don’t Walk These Streets’ is a return to beat oriented music. It’s just as foreboding and ominous as the rest of ‘Concrete Desert’, but has a bit more danceability to it, although this release really isn’t intended for that purpose. It is a heads down kind of dance though, strongly influenced by The Bug’s forays into dubstep, rhythmic rather than melodic you can tell where the branches of that genre have extended themselves into.

The album closes off with the title track, ‘Concrete Desert’, this is the longest one on the album. It works nicely as a summary, drawing on semi-familiar tones from the nine preceding tracks, particularly within the guitar’s chords. It’s spacey and ambient and doesn’t progress with any kind of haste, preferring rather to let the listener immerse themselves within it. 

As experimental as it is, the album as a whole is generally quite successful, it’s an interesting take on a collection of genres that often really have no business being mashed together. It’s executed well by the pair though, they manage to maintain interest throughout and the album’s intention of painting a picture of a city does come true. You become embroiled within it’s darkness, clear images of a post-apocalyptic city sparked within your brain. It’s fierce, it’s menacing and it's amazingly caliginous.

That was intense, I’m off to listen to some disco.

Concrete Desert is out now, buy it HERE

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