Album Review: Unsub - Heartbreaker [PHDM Records]
Prolific producer Unsub delivers the impressive Heartbreaker LP, the fourth on her ‘Pure Heart Dirty Mind’ imprint via mother label ‘NexGen Music’. Sub-genre wise the album could be filed under techstep or neurofunk, but unlike the sometimes cold and emotionless offerings prevalent in this sound, Heartbreaker (like much of Unsub’s output) carries a deeply musical element bringing an analog warmth to every track. Conceptually about a relationship and breakup, the song titles hint at a process of anger, grief, and transcendence, hefty themes for a drum & bass LP.
Title track Heartbreaker sets the mood and feel effectively with a plaintive female vocal mourning a loss of love, piano and strings soaring over a warbling bass. Arutama similarly features a melancholic piano line and soulful vocal sample that gives way to deep, wobbling bass and a crisp, shuffling break. String instruments pluck a mischievous melody on Eastern Time before a wailing eastern vocal slams into a cheeky drop, the nastiness of the grungy bass juxtaposed with sitar and high frequency clicking percussion.
An unashamedly dancefloor-oriented track, The Sound starts pensively enough with squelchy synths and a female rave vocal before clattering breaks and sirens bring the damage. Rift, one of the standout cuts, is another dancefloor-ready destroyer, a fusion of Dillinja-esque abrasiveness and slithering neurofunk bass that stomps like a monster, with a nasty vocal yell on the drop reinforcing the in-your-face vibe.
On Apocalypto, tribal percussive elements and a tinkering piano are all that stand between the listener and a prowling, shuffling bassline reminiscent of Wormhole-era Ed Rush & Optical. Tribal drums again create a mysterious vibe on Psalm 34:11 before a powerful drop with a hyperactive bassline kicks things into gear. A melodic synth line and wailing vocal ramp up the atmosphere, and further vocal chanting in the second breakdown leads to a nifty half-time drop before action resumes.
Despite the name, Killcode is a funky track that dips into liquid-sounding territory with warm, off-beat pads, while still retaining techy bass warbles and mentasm stabs, and on Binding, a collab with fellow artist Alexis K, a ragga vocal lends a jungle flavour with eastern-sounding strings over another punchy and active neuro-flecked bass, with a chaotic drum change-up in the second drop.
Elsewhere, the winning formula of soft, melodic intro and driving, techy drops is also found on Evergreen Lustrush (featuring a second drop with gnarled synth growls), Life Wide Open (with soaring female vocal and rave blips calling to mind early Concord Dawn), Objectifine (chittering percussive layers, warped bass and wistful vocal) and album closer Zarathrustra.
While overall the tracks on the album don’t deviate too far from Unsub’s signature sound, it’s an incredibly powerful one - an undoubtedly emotional heft with pristine production grunt to make ravers move. Watch out for more from this talented artist as she continues her rise.