Album Review: Sanjib – Distant Communion (Oslated, April 2019)

My first encounter with Sanjib’s music came last year, when I was listening to Saphileaum’s fantastic album Uninhibited Kingdom. The French producer had provided the closing track on that album, a remix of Saphileaum’s ‘Dual Expression’ (which was, incidentally, used last year by London bass wizard Forest Drive West in his XLR8R podcast). It’s a good  tune, a bass-heavy dub/tribal techno hybrid, but as I noted in my review of the album it was unfortunately a bit overshadowed by some of the other stellar remixes that accompanied it. Sadly for Sanjib, the same problem appears to be dogging him on his own Oslated release, Distant Communion. Though it’s billed as an album, and is album-length, in practice it’s more a kind of extended EP, featuring three original tracks by Sanjib and six remixes of those tracks by other producers. Sanjib’s three originals certainly aren’t bad by any definition of the word, but they do languish a bit in the shadow of the remixes, all of which piqued my interest far more than their source material did.

Title track ‘Distant Communion’, the first of Sanib’s three originals presented here, is probably one of the happiest-sounding tunes that Oslated has ever released, featuring a bright percussive lead, a warm, deep kick drum, sweeping pads and tropical-sounding percussion lines. Though Sanjib’s sound design is on point, the track as a whole doesn’t really hold together that well; each (well-crafted) sonic component feels like it is fighting the others for the listener’s attention. The second track, ‘Without Words’, fares much better. Here Sanjib’s music takes a darker, dubbier direction. Cosmic rays of sound fire out and then fade away, leaving echoes to ripple away across the darkness of the bass, like afterimages of the sun burned into retinas. Later, they’re joined by streams of bleeps and blips that could just as easily be sampled and distorted birdsong as they could digital artefacts. It’s an unpredictable tune, with each bar feeling different to the one that came before it – no mindless loop techno here. Around midway through, Sanjib threatens to overwhelm the track with a cacophony of hollow voices, but when the babble abruptly ceases and the drop hits it’s one of the album’s finest moments; the beat turns irresistibly groovy thanks to a clever little rolling percussion trick, and the disparate scraps of sound and texture that Sanjib has slowly introduced over the course of the track gel together to form a seamless rhythmic atmosphere.

 

The final Sanjib original track, ‘Sincerity Channel’, doesn’t work quite as well. Once again, the sound design is immaculate; Sanjib conjures up a series of chittering, organic noises, like swarms of alien insects flying in rigid formation, and offsets them with resonating sonar beeps and corroded claps that entwine themselves like vines around the deep boom of the bassline. However, once again I couldn’t shake the feeling that, as with ‘Distant Communion’, the whole was a little less than the sum of its immaculately-produced parts; the low end on ‘Sincerity Channel’ didn’t seem to work especially well with everything going on in the high frequencies, and a couple minutes into the track I found myself wishing it would hurry up and end; not a good sign. Of the three Sanjib originals on the album, two of them I didn’t really take to and can’t see myself listening to again much in future.

The crew of remixers brought on board for the album fared significantly better. The first, a remix of ‘Distant Communion’ by Italian producer Shaded Explorer, takes Sanjib’s bright, hopeful percussive lead, chops it up, pitches it down, and smears it in a generous coating of delay and reverb, with the end result sounding far tougher and more sinister. The progression in the track comes primarily from the way Shaded Explorer gradually layers new elements – gritty swells of bass, synths that sound like icy winds echoing through concrete tunnels – atop one another, until the track reaches its shuddering, shimmering climax. The next ‘Distant Communion’ remix, by the mysterious French artist Abismal, is even better, ratcheting up the tempo and propelling the track forward with a funky syncopated kick drum groove, dub techno chord-pulses, and synth pads that glow like bioluminescent mushrooms in an underwater cave. Rigid, mechanical claps and hats provide a pleasing contrast to the sinuous, organic atmosphere of the track.

 

The dub techno feel of the album is made even more explicit in Romi’s remix of ‘Without Words’. The longtime Oslated affiliate offers up the kind of tune that Rod Modell would feel proud to have produced, pairing soul-shakingly deep bass with hazy dub chords and intricate, microscopically detailed percussion that leaves no sliver of the frequency spectrum unused. The way in which the track gradually builds and releases tension, with each new sound introduced feeling both unexpected and at the same time entirely natural, is testament to how refined a sense Romi has of the deep structure of techno music. Next up is Saphileaum, who returns the favor by contributing a second remix of ‘Without Words’ (called, in classic Saphileaum style, ‘Saphileaum’s 4th Sky’). The Georgian artist’s take on the tune is characteristically cinematic and serene, warm and watery ambient techno that sounds like the feeling you get watching rays of sunshine break through a haze of smoke at an afterparty in a stranger’s house at ten AM on Sunday morning.

Saphileaum’s blissful cut is followed by the only real “banger” on the album, Nigm’s remix of ‘Sincerity Channel’. It’s one of Distant Communion’s best moments, an eyes-closed headfuck of a tune. The kick and bass hit hard, galloping forward beneath organic rustling and chittering (with Nigm having carefully preserved some of the insectile nature of Sanjib’s original) and lithe, undulating synthesizer growls that are bound to send shivers down every spine on the dancefloor. It’s also very cleanly produced, with each sonic element sounding punishingly clear, an advantage it has over Sanjib’s original which sounds unfortunately muddy in comparison.

It falls to Javier Marimon (who released a truly sublime album, General Noise, on Oslated last year) to finish off Distant Communion. Marimon’s ‘Salve Dub’ of ‘Sincerity Channel’ is a tour de force of dubby psychedelia. It’s a witchy, haunting tune, full of occult overtones: think “Demdike Stare covers Basic Channel”. There’s a lot to love about this track – the halting, shuddering percussion, the faint shrieks of circuitry warped into unnatural forms –but my personal favourite aspect is the dusty, muffled melody, the one that sounds like it’s coming from deep within the listener’s own skull. All of the remixes on here are incredibly strong in their own way, but Marimon’s feels the most distinct; as if he has taken Sanjib’s track and truly made it his own.

The presence of so many excellent remixes on this release is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, Nigm, Romi, Marimon, and others have all seriously stepped up to the plate, and this release is worth copping for their efforts alone. But on the other hand, this has the unintended effect of making Sanjib seem a bit outclassed on his own release. Perhaps, given a different format – a more traditional album, for instance – Sanjib may be able to spread his wings a bit more and better demonstrate the musical artistry he is surely capable of. On Distant Communion, however, it feels like he was never really given the chance to shine.

Distant Communion is available for purchase over on Oslated’s Bandcamp

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