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Gabe Gurnsey – Physical

UK producer Gabe Gurnsey may be best known for his consistent and “punishing” drum work in the industrial powerhouse Factory Floor, but he’s going solo with a more intimate and succinct structure on Physical – an album which remains rooted in the basic tonality of club music while exploring of the newer edges of electronica. He can be heard making moves towards a more accessible sound outside of the dance floor, however the resulting output is a little bit hit and miss.

Physical is unique for a dance record, with its linear story and fairly meaningful lyrics providing an element of flair within the genre, which is usually saturated with tracks focused more on instrumentation. Gurnsey’s love for and experience in the realm of percussion is featured prominently on all 14 tracks, uncommon amongst his melodically based peers. Overall, the album is quite lengthy, coming in at 50 minutes. It could certainly benefit from the culling of a few songs, but standout tracks such as “Ultra Clear Sound”, “Temazzy” and “New Kind” do make for an enjoyable record.

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While the lead single and opening cut “Ultra Clear Sound” is arguably the best song on the record, the rest of the album doesn’t necessarily disappoint in relation to it. This song is an incredible bridge between the hard-hitting sound of Gurnsey and a more accessible sound, while remaining somewhat experimental and unique. The track also familiarises the listener with the stellar, layered production found on Physical, brought in to full effect immediately after a slow-burning build. The raw sound is pristine, loud and exceptionally full. The track also features some acoustic percussion before an interwoven electronic hi-hat is introduced. It even invokes some of the ambience and production elements of producer Gesaffelstein, further fashioning this bridge between the mainstream and Gurnsey’s roots. The chorus hook on this track is simply great, with the metallic interplay of dual vocals (“ultra, give me algorithm”) melding the sections of a more progressive or ambient feel to a powerful and memorable chorus.

“You Can” has lots going on in its percussion, but certainly doesn’t raise the bar following the opener. Its more rock-oriented kit pattern gives the track certain qualities of a Capital Cities song, but the vocal delivery and spasmodic alterations in percussion ensure the style of Gurnsey is preserved. A more natural bass timbre is heard on the cut, preemptively preventing the album from wearing out its tonal patches, as well as providing distinction from the previous track. Despite the track shifting often and regularly introducing fresh melodies, the song becomes boring in relation to its progression from section to section and over-reliance on its lyrical content. The following track “Temazzy” introduces some layered female vocals, which presents another perspective in the overarching storyline of the album. The saw synths found on the chorus, both in the lead and backing lines, make themselves unique in their combination of both drawn out chords and jumpy solo riffs.

“Harder Rhythm” is another highlight on the record, featuring a multitude of percussion layers over a crunchy and powerful bassline. The track lives up to its name with its heavy use of kick drum, with phrases ranging from short flurries to off-beat sprinklings. The hook “harder love creates a harder rhythm” is infectious in its delivery and repetition, and the track’s layered outro is one unmatched on the remaining tracks. “New Kind” is fuelled by a funky bassline with an appearance of electric guitars, opening with the self-aware booming of “snare, kick, hi-hat,” before launching into its groovy onslaught. The track is possibly more political, with sections of spoken word connecting the instrumental with its lyrics. A strutting solo section is held together with brass hits and some response from hollow synthesized strings, with the track rounding out with notable dual guitar tracks.

“I Get” is a longer track with a standard four-beat kick pattern and a clichéd staggered introduction of sounds. The song is a great overview of the entire vibe of the album, with the main riff almost feeling ‘classic’ of Gurnsey’s newfound style. Its dual chord chorus makes for an easy track to navigate on the floor, and its vocals are more spoken but remain catchy. “Night Track” clocks in at six minutes, making it the longest track on Physical. Again, the production is great, with a stuttering kick and warped bassline providing a solid foundation for some circling effects. A ‘proper’ verse is a great addition to the track, the lyrics reinforcing Gurnsey’s intention to make music about clubbing, rather than music to be played in clubs. The track does retain various elements from start to finish, namely its machine gun bassline, but the introduction of interesting and varying sections above it is commendable, and ensures the album doesn’t fall on its last beats.

“The Last Channel”, the closing track, does a good job of summing the previously explored sounds and concepts into a nice track, decorated with somewhat atonal synths and vocals, as well as a section of chilling vocal harmony. Strong percussive elements are, as expected, found all over the cut, from short tom fills to castanet-like ‘shicks’ reinforcing the main rhythms. The track also provides a resolution to the tale of the night, (“do you ache all over?”) a concept which, again, separates Physical from many other contemporary dance records.

Ultimately, for those who enjoy club electronica, this release does breathe some life into the genre. But for the average listener, it may be that a large portion of the album simply isn’t exciting or accessible enough to enjoy. Cuts such as “Eyes Over”, “In States” and “Heavy Rubber” do bloat the album past its limits, but there are gems on this record which should make listeners anticipate future solo releases from Gabe Gurnsey.

Physical is released Friday 3rd August via Phantasy Sound/PIAS.