The London nu-jazz/electronic scene is one ecosystem that does more than sustain itself. From the Steamdown/Trinity/Deptford/Greenwich source point to the hubbub around Hackney’s Total Refreshment Centre to the outflow from vibrant labels like Walthamstow’s Byrd Out, it’s a community that continues to create through crossovers, connections and collaborations. Cue yet more evidence of the surge, ‘Coma World’, the partnership between drummer Max Hallett (Betamax from Comet is Coming/Soccer 96) and bassist Pete Bennie (Speaker’s Corner Quartet, Morviscous) with their self-titled LP available now on the previously plugged Byrd Out imprint.
It’s a fine, fully realised piece of work, built around the chemistry of their intuitive playing but with the foundation of a shared focus, having been inspired by a friend’s memories of being in a coma. That may sound dark and claustrophobic, and yes at times ‘Coma World’ dives deep into the atmospheric wave, but it’s a record that never drifts away. There’s plenty of wonky bass bounce and funk tight beats to keep you afloat and in tune with the unfolding soundscape from needle on to the run-off grooves.
To unpack ‘Coma World’ track by track could be counterproductive as it’s an album which has increased impact as a whole. It’s an immersive thing with short interludes of scrambled voices (‘Wipe and Erase’), reconstructed chiming scales (‘Oh my eyes’) and ambient dub (‘Wild Colours’) setting the scene for the lengthier tunes and welding the record together. Those longer cuts highlight the crackling inventiveness and infectious spontaneity that Hallett and Bennie draw on to bring ‘Coma World’ very much to life.
Take ‘Megatrone’ for starters, a slow creeping funk shuffle sketched by the familiar clean crisp accents of the Betamax drums underneath the rippling chord drops. As it builds Bennie’s elastic bass winds up from booming low twangs to full fluid Bootsy amongst some dramatic industrial bangs and clatters. Then there’s ‘Cream Submarine’. Here a block-beat that echoes Soccer 96 takes the pulse while shoegazey, tropical surf guitar sounds conjure up a dream like island sway. Playing out to a dexterous bass melody the track has a tantalisingly psychedelic shading mixed with a touch of less earnest Soft Machine jazz.
That Canterbury undercurrent also ripples through the gentle ambling tunefulness ‘Some Sleep For The Weak’, an almost lullaby that walks the tightrope between calm and losing control. Similarly the more frantic ‘No Focus’ lurches from determination and desperation as its skittering broken beats morph into booming Squarepusher speed rhythms, . It’s these real tensions that the duo maintain throughout ‘Coma World’ which gives the record its own identity and keeps the music close to the story it is trying to tell.
Unsurprisingly the album closes with a triple sequence that looks to enthral and deepen the mystery: ‘Oblange’ plays out with stunning bass pad and rhythmic interplay, like a samba marching band from another dimension; ‘Mindgrinder’ crunches up gothic synth chords into looping siren sounds while Hallett’s doom rhythm staggers under the weight of the emergency; and ‘Cream Submarine Dub’ reconstitutes the earlier track’s warmth within a throbbing trip hop cavern. It’s a fractured, intense finale to a record that echoes back to the much missed sonic explorations of the great Andrew Weatherall in his Sabres of Paradise/Two Lone Swordsmen guise. ‘Coma World’ is serious but able to raise a smile, dark but able to shed some light, experimental but able to fill the floor, spontaneous, unpredictable but undeniably necessary.