Album of the week: DjRUM – Portrait with Firewood

DjRUM (Felix Manuel) makes music assembled like a collage from the disparate sounds of London’s various musical sub-cultures. He is c a product of his surroundings with elements of Dubstep, Garage, Grime and even Jazz pulsing through every release. Polyrhythmic percussion is at the nucleus of DjRUM’s sound, moving through tracks like stop-motion cinema, laying the foundation for expressive minuets of melodic flourishes. No two consecutive phrases are ever the same with a very organic musical approach to melody and harmony through his EPs and LPs.

2013’s “Seven Lies” stands as a particular testament to a symbiosis between the machine and the human in electronic music during a time when conservative robotic rhythms and mechanical melodic refrains started becoming more commonplace. Manuel had found a home at 2nd Drop Records, a label that seemed to exist solely for his music, but also a home that could nurture his music without forcing its own influences on the precocious talent. 

After a string of EPs and an album for the London-based label, Manuel found a new home on R&S in 2017 and a year after making his debut on the label with “Broken Glass Arch”, he returns to the LP format with “Portrait with Firewood”. It’s the format best suited to Manuel’s work and it delivers no unusual surprises as a DjRUM album, with the producer still channelling all those eclectic influences through his very idiosyncratic metaphorical amplifier. There’s the polyrhythmic foundation yet again wit  expressive melodic excursions suspended between phrases into fully-fledged composed songs, but on this occasion there’s also a new element that has found it’s way into DjRUM’s music.

There’s a new animated quality to his music that hasn’t really been there with live strings and piano coursing their way through the LP. While Manuel has always composed from the piano, it’s never been so prominent on his music before and a track like “Creature Pt.1” is not something that would really have made an appearance on “Seven Lies”. Manuel’s music, although luscious and visceral had always remained quite boxy, a mere result of the digital age, he was born into, but on “Portrait with Firewood” this has notably changed. 

This new sound quality really highlights the depth from which Manuel’s music gestates. Even a track like “Showreel pt.3” with its erratic drum n bass excursions and unforgiving chattering of filter resonance, bows to the piano punctuating phrases as they trail off from the last note in to the next. It’s a marvel of visceral quality that has been there in Manuel’s work before, but never quite touched so intimately on the artist working methods.

What had been composed on the piano was refined through the electronic realm, but on “Portraits of Firewood” that is not the case. Piano motifs are lifted straight from the instrument and accompany the live strings perfectly. It’s a feat of production  in the way Manuel combines these with electronic elements, each complimenting the other as if their created from the same source.  

Whether it was accommodated through the R&S budget or simply the next natural evolution in DjRUM’s music is unclear, but “Portrait with Firewood” is the greatest expression of Manuel’s work up to this point. It shouldn’t deflect from the inherent beauty of all his work, but it is the music DjRUM was always meant to make. 

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