[CD Review] The Bug, 'London Zoo' (Ninja Tune)

Kevin Martin spent a good decade honing a monolithic amplitude, running the tangents of ragga and dub through granular filters and fractured imagery. As the Bug—plus part of Techno Animal, Ice and God, among many other aliases—Martin pumped buckshot through the sound system, leaving a wake of sputtering cones and corroded perceptions across a couple of dozen sides ranging from free-jazz grindcore to grimy, postapocalyptic hip-hop to industrial-strength proto-dubstep.

But enough entomology. The Bug’s latest, London Zoo, is all about the seismology. Following several highlight singles (“Jah War,” “Skeng,” “Poison Dart,” all revisited on this disc), then an Internet-distributed Kode9-mixed promo preview, London Zoo adds even more corporeal depth to the Bug’s breadth. Arriving five years after Pressure (Tigerbeat6/Rephlex), the Bug’s latest effort dispatches concussive riddims 12 times over—and the weight was worth the wait.

Living and working out of a rough-hewn studio for more than two years—brooding on an agitated relationship with surrounding, slowly suffocating London—Martin has produced an album of umber and umbrage. Applying screwed-tight dubstep to the dancehall, Martin and his collaborators flog oxidized mentalities. Warnings of a modern Babylon’s inevitable collapse are spit, as peristaltic bass threatens to swallow all within a sound system’s bleed.

Contrasting diffused and consolidated snares—the Bug’s rhythmic cortisol—Martin further indulges a propensity for density. Yet, compared to previous albums, there’s less distortion even as there’s a more gnarled tonality. Tippa Irie, Spaceape, Flowdan, Warrior Queen and Ricky Ranking toast and stoke the melody’s tinder above the congestion and reverberation, putting politicians and bass bins equally on blast. Martin has brought his best game to the yard, honing his crossbred technique into a shock wave as much as sound wave, turning “fight or flight” into a full-range, modernized frequency.

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