Although Bristol has long been one of those British provincial towns that can boast a strong local scene there has been a definite surge over the last couple of years which has seen their mix of house, techno and other, wilder, influences reach out to become one of the defining movements of the moment. While Happy Skull are still a young label, they have increasingly come to define a sound which not only has its roots in Bristol’s flourishing clubs and artists, but help mount a challenge to the pre-eminence of the larger musical centre of London. Strong 12s by the likes of Marco Bernardi, Creta Kano and the not long departed but very much missed Andreas Gehm have all pointed to refreshingly varied tastes and influences, while Rhythmic Theory’s Decadence Of Delay remains one of my favourite releases of the last few years.
Adjowa returns to the label for the first time since 2013’s 8 Ball with Heartstrung, a three tracker which, in many ways, picks up where the previous release left of. Where 8 Ball though was a slice of acid tinged cosmic disco, Hearstrung is harder to place, seemingly less content with stalking familiar territory or leaving influences unruffled. At first I was really only aware of a similarity across the three tunes – a heady sense of melody and form which seemed to take its lead mainly from the admittedly pretty yet slightly cold Hearstrung. The track itself borders on new age house (if we’re still using that term,); a gentle, lilting piece of careful arrangement, studded by misty drums and punctuated by the occasional thunder-clap of snare. While it takes an eternity to make its presence felt, it eventually opens into something which mixes the atmospherics into the subtlest of grooves.
And while there is indeed a certain commonality of mood and texture across all three tracks, the other two broaden that theme, rolling in more eclectic elements which bring to life something which was all but dormant in Heartstrung. Sylvie Always Goes In does indeed broaden the approach, only to immediately narrow it down again into a deeply effective shuffle-stepper which loses the carefulness and replaces it with bursts of verbed out acidic squirts, and injects a similar DNA to classic Carl Craig. The melodic touches, so much the focus in the first track, better accent the mood of midnight adventures and journeys under sodium lights.
Penny Black, like the opener, takes a while to fully warm to its vibe. But when it does it unfurls quickly into something very different, its loose-hipped funk rivalling Sylvie Always’… heightened sense of quiet wander. Part of what makes Penny Black such a charmer is that it rarely – if ever – gives into any desire to pump the groove up with artificial grit, instead allowing the warmth, humour and life to shine out. It’s the sunny day to Sylvia’s.. dusky travels, and floats happily in the sure knowledge that it dinks the vibe just right.