Seattle’s Kid Smpl has always been a student of dance music’s history, his ever-deepening catalogue showing off a keen understanding of over two decades of rave music. Snippets of jungle, garage and dubstep seem to flit in and out of Smpl’s past work, reconstitutions of classic sounds in a new context, often at a new tempo and with newfound emotional heft. On Response/Ascend, Smpl’s latest effort for Symbols and a proficient companion piece to February’s Precinct EP, Smpl moves beyond the confines of the UK hardcore continuum, drawing on everything from the hyper-melodic skip of contemporary dancehall to big room trance, all stuck together with a widescreen R&B sensibility.
And whereas Kid Smpl’s past work has elicited nostalgia and futurist yearnings, Response/Ascend is a record distinctly of our time, a heaving, ever-collapsing mass that distills big room and home listening sensibilities into one singular space. That space is filled by songs like “Repeat Balance” and “Display Ring” that seem to clatter and bang until it’s almost unbearable, shearing noise and Smpl’s signature tortured vocal manipulations building over a saccharine bed synth pads. Meanwhile on the brief but brilliant “Focus Ribbon”, beaming major chords accompany a twisted, meandering vocal, the track moving forward despite a near-total lack of percussion. As a whole, Response/Ascend oozes confidence; the confidence of a producer willing to match harsh sonics with beatific melodic work and, moreso, an artist striving to enter untested waters.