The Bug – Angels and Devils
Label: Ninja TuneScore: 7/10
It’s been 6 years since Kevin ‘The Bug’ Martin’s last incarnation under his most lauded moniker. That record, London Zoo, set a genre benchmark and placed its flag firmly in the ground, claiming the last disparate shards of the splintering London dubstep sound as its own, blasting down the genres played out cliché’s and returning the capital’s bass music heritage to its roots – punishingly heavy dub centric, West Indian music combined with a British, ‘fuck you’ punk rock heritage and futurist urban decay sensibilities.
Since that record was released, Martin was busy with his ‘Lover’s Rock’ project King Midas Sound (KMS). A similarly experimental yet more laid back affair that allowed his powerful productions space to breath, centring them on his co-conspirators Roger Robinson and Kiki Hitomi rather than his own militant beats.
His third outing as The Bug – Angels & Devils – comes in a historically deserved wave of hype. Released on the on fire Ninja Tune, the record plays out as a game of two halves. A slightly more subdued, atmospheric, bass heavy yet comparatively gentle beginning, that is followed by explosive, off the bench, second-half substitutions that turns the record into the cacophony of punishing vibes we all want and expect from the ferociously fiery producer.
However, with the exception of the opening six numbers, which have more in common with Martin’s KMS project than it does The Bug – with the exception of the odd 3-3-2 dancehall riddim – Angels and Devils doesn’t really offer much in terms of progression on his original template that was birthed on his first offering, Pressure, and then subsequently honed, and then basically perfected on London Zoo.
One of the main reasons London Zoo worked so well was because of how immediate and taunt it was. It was streamlined and explosive, and despite the fact each tune was basically a blisteringly brutal stand-alone offering, Martin’s style was so unique and exploratory that that didn’t matter.
Therefore, it is surprising he has coughed up the KMS pseudo-trip hop openings of this album (the titular Angels)- which are nice – yet at points plodding – heavy slow-burners that utilise their respective vocalists (Liz Wood, Copeland, Miss Red and a surprisingly boring Gonjasufi) sparingly but well enough – and combined it with The Bug dancehall at the end (the Devils). Maybe he wanted to make an actual album for The Bug rather than another sick as fuck collection of singles and tracks?
What’s most surprising however is that the best of the vocal cuts do not come from frequent collaborator Flowdan, who has three tracks to dominate on the spoken word count. His lyrics come across as clichédly dark and insipid – as evidenced on the minimal and ominously dirty ‘Fat Mac’ – and at points watery, uninspired and anaemic – on the otherwise dancefloor destroying ‘The One’. He manages to redeem himself somewhat on the previously released ‘Dirty’ where his themes and delivery are much more assured and well-executed, with his esoteric, enthused personality clearly more on show.
The stand out vocal plaudits have to go out to Roll Deep’s Manga whose up and down, brilliantly erratic delivery on the beefy, dubwise grime number of ‘Function’ fits the hard, dank, midi-horn beat absolutely perfectly. He is hyper, paranoid sounding and agitatedly aggressive, in short he is sick. Props also have to go out to MC Ride, the Sacramento based MC of the Death Grips, who is a brave man to feature on such a UK centric record. His rapid fire, double time grimey delivery perfectly fits and compliments possibly the most out there and progressive beat on the album, ‘Fuck a Bitch’, a truly explosive number that shows The Bug at the top of his game. Warrior Queen’s contribution on ‘Fuck You’ is workman like, but still works well in conjunction with the really nice industrial tinged beat.
All things said, Angels & Devils is nice, its beats are uniformly good, with a couple of excellent offerings, and the vocal performances of Manga and MC Ride are worth the admission price alone, but if you want a true taste of what The Bug is all about, your best sticking with London Zoo and Pressure.
Words: Al Kennedy