Review: Steven Simpson – ND (10 Pills Mate)

A few of those in the know had been talking this record up recently on the usual channels, but being the sort of curmudgeonly old sod who reckons all too often that hype seldom delivers I was set to make the big pass in favour of some totally screwy little number on an imprint that mostly exists in the mind of its creator. You know the sort of thing. The online clips of ND suggested solid enough acidic shenanigans in a Chi-town style but if there’s one thing we all have plenty of, it’s exactly that, right? Still, it nagged at me as some music does, and I’ve learned enough to know that judging a record by its Soundcloud chunks is liable to end it tears. So here it is.

My first impressions were pretty accurate, at least in some aspects. The influences are undeniably Chicago – plump ribbons of 303s billowing over nicely saturated kicks and chattering percussion – and it remains an effective sound even after all these years. In truth though only the first track, Untitled Acid is allowed to sink deep into Armando-esque grooves. That it manages this with aplomb whilst avoiding the easy trap of sounding too much like an homage is a job well done.

That’s really just the start, though. The real strength of the record is in the way it combines such a classical approach to acid house with something of the grittier vibe that marks the work of the outsider/analogue gang who’ve been doing to rounds over the last couple of years. Such a thing isn’t entirely uncommon these days of course; Patricia has been doing something similar for a while, in fact, although in his case there is less emphasis on the Chicago sound and more on rawer electronic exploration.

Simpson works both ends of the spectrum with the other two tracks. ND itself winds slowly into life with bouncing bass thickened toms, applying gloss with synths so subtle they remain a suggestion of colour rather than a sound, and gently washing the tune with the tiniest hints of melody and life until it gently begins to wind itself towards the acid which drops into being and alters the whole tone. Chicagoacid opens with the same approach but bathes it in a drifting tidal wash of silvery chords, keeping the thick bass as the one steadying rock in a sea of shifting aquatic goodness. It’s so deep, and so warm, it just wraps you up in its grooves and transports you from one end to the other.

While it’s certainly impressive for any young, new producer (and Simpson is certainly young) to have such a solid understanding of the sounds of old Chicago tunage, it’s even more impressive – and rarer – for them to have got to grips with the actual vibe and grooves, and the point of it all. Even better is the way he’s at home enough with acid’s history and meaning to be screwing and playing around with the preconceptions on his first release. Power to him. One to look out for in the future.