... Four years on from the sprightly drum'n'bass of their playful debut, [B]'There Are Strings'[/B], and still [a]Spring Heel Jack[/a] seem oblivious to fashions, unaffected by any of clubland's casua

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Faultline : Mute

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Faultline : Mute

It’s dense in the jungle. Unforgiving, too, unless you’re smart enough to outwit the pack. Four years on from the sprightly drum’n’bass of their playful debut, ‘There Are Strings’, and still [a]Spring Heel Jack[/a] seem oblivious to fashions, unaffected by any of clubland’s casual flings with the future. Which is just as well, given the irrelevance of today’s stagnant jungle scene and besides, as ‘Treader’ bears great testament to, the pair have had other, more weightier matters to contend with.

Certainly Ashley Wales and John Coxon have never consciously sought approval from their D&B peers and now, more than ever, such comparisons would appear short-sighted and insincere. For on their fifth album [a]Spring Heel Jack[/a] have managed to marry their obvious love of contemporary classical minimalism – of the unashamedly avant-garde, essentially – with the kind of prescient production skills most memorably demonstrated on their reworkings of tracks by fellow travellers, Spiritualized and Tortoise. And as frightening as that sounds, in practice it’s a thrilling and genuinely fascinating journey. New territory is explored, strange noises are made. It’s good science. Even the worthy ambient drones of the final ‘1st Piece For La Monte Young’, a homage to the American composer, make unlikely sense.

This isn’t to say that Coxon and Wales have deserted their junglist tendencies. Far from it – the majority of tracks are grounded in skittering percussion and car stereo-busting bass loops – but this time there’s a wide-eyed awareness and absorption of sounds from way beyond the traditionally myopic studio confines; ideas no doubt gleaned from touring with their hero Lee Perry and Jason Pierce‘s merry men. Check the frazzled mutant brass strafes on ‘Eyepa’ and ‘Winter’ for evidence, or the baroque-slash-noise whirlwinds of ‘Is’ and ‘Treader’. Listening to these, it’s no wonder Goldie has decided to try his hand at acting. He’s probably running scared.

Such a furious pace can’t be kept up, though, and come the record’s latter stages, songs like ‘Pipe’ and ‘Toledo’ display signs of breakbeat fatigue. Which is why the spacious ‘…La Monte Young’ piece works as a natural, unforced ending; the dead calm after almost an hour of brazen sonic invention.

On one level, ‘Treader’ is the album that should restore a rightfully indifferent public’s faith in drum’n’bass, for what that’s worth. But more importantly, it’s the record [a]Spring Heel Jack[/a] have always threatened to make. And that, truly, is worth a whole lot more.