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High Contrast: "Tough Guys Don't Dance"
(****)

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The makings of a classic

"Tough Guys Don't Dance" by High Contrast is a worthy follow-up to "High Society".

High Contrast further develops the lines first drawn in "High Society", its previous drum'n'bass offering, with 2007 release "Tough Guys Don't Dance". The first time I heard of High Contrast was in 2004 when I got "True Colours" via an amazon recommendation when buying "Billion Dollar Gravy" by London Elektricity. London E struck a chord: soulful, rich, organic drum'n'bass - not the dime-a-dozen jungle drivel that, to me, was an abomination of a brilliant concept. Rhythm and timbre are everything, I of all people should know - but when there's musical talent accompanied, the result will compel even the most adamant sceptics.

But at the time, High Contrast couldn't possibly match the vibrant - yet slammin' - sounds of London. While "True Colors" wasn't a disappointment per se, it was too junglish for me. It was enough, however, to convince me to keep a tab on High Contrast, and today I can say I'm lucky to have done it: some of the best drum'n'bass I have ever heard would reach me as a result. "High Society" took the spot-on beat programming stylings of "True Colours" and managed to combine them with novel composition ideas and groovy samples and melodies. It was just slightly less junglish, that much more melodic... and above all, no compromise in timbres. I had discovered the Lemon Jelly of drum'n'bass.

"High Society" stood up to repeat listens for several years for me. It was going to be very difficult to top that, I thought to myself when I placed the order for "Tough Guys Don't Dance".

But again, High Contrast delivers. It is not unjustified to say that High Contrast is a true rival to London Elektricity with its latest offering: in fact, the only thing setting the two apart is less developed melodies on High Contrast's part. London E will not and can not hide the fact that the group has more knowledge of musical theory and a better feel for composition than High Contrast. High Contrast tends to rely more on one-shot hooks: the music grabs you by the balls, but doesn't really evolve. Does it make London E superior and High Contrast redundant? Not. By. A. Long. Shot.

The hooks that High Contrast pulls on you will almost make you swoon in awe. Jungle fans will never even notice the lack of melody development on the album, non-jungle fans won't care too much because the bass is so prominent and the beats are so strong. And that's besides the hooks... they really work. No other way to describe them. (Amendment to paragraph, for the initiated: At most, High Contrast carries a "Ghost of jungle past" - a far more accurate term is techstep, twostep or jump-up).

Like Lemon Jelly with bigbeat/chillout, High Contrast has, in my opinion, established itself as a drum'n'bass authority. Not all tracks on "Tough Guys Don't Dance" are smash hits (In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida is a very situational track that won't work around-the-clock, and Chances - while clearly meant as the opposite of "Eternal Optimist" (high contrast indeed) - doesn't hook you the way other tracks will) but the overall impression is rock solid. You're going to find unique hooks with booming drum'n'bass on this album - many (such as If We Ever, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Sleepless and even Eternal Optimist if you can get over the naivete) clearly have the qualities to become evergreen classics that you will always keep coming back to.

But "High Society" has many such classics as well. At the time of writing it's difficult to assess which has more, but one thing is clear: "High Society" has earned its honours as a time-tested classic already, while "Tough Guys Don't Dance" is still on probation. To me it's clear that High Contrast has learned what made "High Society" so great and managed to improve upon it still - but for the time being, "High Society" is the measuring stick against which all future High Contrast releases are going to be compared to.

If you're looking for a clear purchasing recommendation though, mine's clear and resounding: Get. Both. If compelling melodic hooks combined with massive beatwork is your game, High Contrast is your name.

TOP TRACKS: If We Ever, Everything's Different, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Sleepless, Pink Flamingos, Eternal Optimist, Nobody Gets Out Alive

Tracklist

  1. If We Ever
  2. Everything's Different
  3. In-A-Gadda-Vida
  4. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
  5. Forever & A Day
  6. Sleepless
  7. Tread Softly
  8. Metamorphosis
  9. Pink Flamingos
  10. Eternal Optimist
  11. Chances
  12. Nobody Gets Out Alive
  13. The Ghost Of Jungle Past
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Hospital Records 2007

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Review by Saboteur


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