Pitch Black

Melodically there's nothing desperately catchy on Pitch Bkack's superb third album Ape To Angel (2003) and it's not the most accessible ambient/tech dub around. But that doesn't diminish its greatness. These tracks make you work and pay attention before surrendering their charms - and the rewards are well worth it.

artist:
Pitch Black

country of origin:
New Zealand

style(s):
Ambient dub, breakbeat, ethno ambient, techno

decades active:
90's - 10's

essential releases:

  • Ape To Angel (2003, Kog Records/Waveform)
  • Rude Mechanicals (2007, Dubmission)
  • Filtered Senses (2016, Dubmission)

Reviewed by Mike G

In the new century it seems dub can be almost any instrumental bass-heavy electronica. A 2003 media release for New Zealand duo Pitch Black (Michael Hodgson and Paddy Free) called their music "cross-genre dub beats and mind-expanding sounds", a description which is right on the money.

Melodically there's nothing desperately catchy on their superb third album Ape To Angel (2003) and but that doesn't diminish its greatness. These tracks make you work and pay attention before surrendering their charms - and the rewards are well worth it. "Flex" and the exquisite title track recall the spacey lushness and techno precision of classic Global Communication and Artificial Intelligence releases from the 90's. Relaxed, techy pads and melodic pulses unfold and bounce around the speakers, spiralling off into slowly decaying echoes. It's the dubby bass element, however, that gives the band's sound its distinctively warm aura. Pitch Black’s bedrock is rarely 4/4 beats but more complex grooves and rhythms, pinned down with big, tuneful basslines. The techno element is more in the textures: the sparingly-used snarls and bleeps and floating ambient clouds.

There's plenty of variety on Ape To Angel, too. "Lost In The Translation" is driven by a catchy Arabian drum groove but cleverly disguises it with a reggae pulse and a distorted tribal vocal. "Big Trouble Upstairs" is a progressive breakbeat stormer, building slowly to a dancefloor intensity by adding layers and repeating themes. The quietest track here is the gently grooving "Empty Spaces Missing Units" - imagine 21st century lounge music for planetary fly-bys.

The band's fourth album Rude Mechanicals (2007) is cut from the same stylistic cloth as its predecessor and is similarly superb. A higher melody count and a little less abrasion makes it perhaps even a better introduction to the band's music than the previous release. Filtered Senses (2016) is also gold class, the first collection of new original tunes in nearly a decade. On the dub-tech axis, the band's music still sits closest to the dub end. This makes it quite distinct from the current generation of dub-techno acts - which has been a growing hybrid in the 2010's - where the dominant voice seems to be techno, even though everyone is using dub’s signature delay and echo effects. Three tracks on the album also feature a female vocal, smartly woven into the music as texture rather than song so that lyrics are never commanding centre stage. Filtered Senses finds Pitch Black at the top of their game with another deft mixture of force and understatement, sounding like no one but themselves.

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