There’s a certain feeling you get when you listen to some dance music that’s really hard to explain, and I’ll probably sound like an idiot trying to do so. This feeling makes you want to shout; it’s that rude, visceral reaction where it’s all too much and you want to throw an arm out, screw up your face, do or say something. It’s one of the most exciting things in music for me. When I first started listening to garage, grime and jungle years ago, I’d get it from the drop. Kowton has somehow achieved that feeling on his album Utility, and I’m not quite sure how he’s done it, which has to be the highest compliment I can pay.
I’ve been playing out a few tunes from the album in the last month, and tracks like “Sleep Chamber” and “Comments Off” work insanely well in a club. I played “Comments Off” to a packed midweek club in Bristol, and people went crazy for it. During the weekend I played after a hands-in-the-air set from Âme, and the crowd really went for “Sleep Chamber”, too. The fact these tracks work in two very different settings is a testament to their versatility. If you step away from the dance floor and listen to Utility at home, you’ll find that it makes just as much sense as an album as it does on the dance floor.
I think Utility as a whole works much like the individual tunes themselves: it grabs you from the moment it starts and doesn’t lose you as it carries on. The album also sounds resolutely like Kowton’s signature sound, which may seem like an obvious thing to say, but translating a sound achieved via dance floor 12s into an album is an extremely hard task. Not many people accomplish it well.
Joe’s a friend of mine, so when I first got sent the record it was actually a bit nerve-racking. If you don’t like your friend’s first LP, it’s just a bit awkward. But I’m relieved to say that I love it, even if I haven’t told him yet. Three or four years ago Joe said he was trying to avoid melody all together, but thankfully it’s clear on Utility that he’s put that behind him. For me, the melodies here are one of the album’s strongest assets, as they’re both hypnotic and transcendent. Just listen to “Slow Cats” and “A Bluish Shadow”, which are relaxing without having a soporific effect. Every time they end I want them to go on for twice as long.
I love minimal music, and two of my favourite albums are very distinct takes on minimalism: Philip Glass’ Glassworks and Robert Hood’s Minimal Nation. I think this album achieves the same intent, stripping music down to it’s most fundamental parts while still sounding fresh and unpredictable. Utility is first and foremost a great piece of music; it’s exciting, addictive and rewarding, which helps it to gain that replay factor that’s so important to an album. Kowton smashed it. Highly recommended.
Published March 10, 2016.