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Review: Sepalcure – Folding Time

Sepalcure - Folding Time review on cone magazine hotflush

This May, American duo Travis Stewart and Praveen Sharma bring us their second full length release as Sepalcure.

Progressive, innovative and unique; despite a few underwhelming opening tracks, ‘Folding Time’ is compelling in its desire to challenge listeners’ expectations; showcasing sounds from a variety of tempos. The album is comprised of new music as well as older projects revisited by the pair. Written over several bottles of whiskey, elements of nostalgia can be felt just as strongly as insightful progression on ‘Folding Time’ – the name of which hints at a “connection between past and present”. ‘Folding Time’ is pioneering in its broadness; arriving in an era where tempo adherence in electronic music is becoming less and less fundamental, this approach is something that I expect producers from across the board will be adopting over the coming years.

Stewart (Machinedrum) and Praveen (Braille) first appeared as Sepalcure back in 2010, when their debut EP ‘Love Pressure’ was released on Hotflush. With an innovative garage-influenced 130/140 sound, their early stuff was not strictly club music, but definitely encouraged listeners to move their feet. With elements of early Burial minus the underlying sombreness, Sepalcure experimented with BPMs traditionally associated with dubstep and grime over their next few EPs, while placing an emphasis on house acapellas and emotive reverb. Their first full length, the self-titled Sepalcure’, saw the duo showcase a light hearted, spaced-out, dancey sound, with a generous sprinkling of ambience. In 2013, we got ‘Make You’, a well-crafted, artistic-yet-fun EP, which showcased the pair’s refined sound and received a warm reception. It’s been 3 years since that dropped; during this break the pair took time to pursue solo projects, with Stewart releasing his concept album ‘Vapor City’ as Machinedrum and Praveen releasing his first album as Braille, ‘Mute Swan’. The pair definitely have a lot to live up to with ‘Folding Time’ considering the critical success of ‘Make You’, but the diversity on their latest album demonstrates Sepalcure’s desire to branch beyond the niche they have constructed for themselves up until now, revisit some of their earliest influences, and dabble in territory they’ve only ever skirted as Sepalcure before.

This desire to convey a different sound has resulted in some really exciting and unexpected tracks. However, not every tune on ‘Folding Time’ comes across as an innovative masterpiece. The album begins with a chilled, R&B inspired number called ‘Fight for Us’, which is pretty and pleasing enough, but is actually a little dissatisfying as the opener, and perhaps a little dull in the context of some of Sepalcure’s previous, edgier work. The track has beautiful vocals, courtesy of Rochelle Jordan, but Sepalcure fail to do anything exciting with them, and their strong presence on the tune overshadows anything technical Sepalcure have done on the production front. It’s clear that the pair were aiming for a soulful sound here, one that would convert well to a live performance (akin to those by artists like Bonobo), but the result is actually something which sounds devoid of the rawness that has always made Sepalcure’s sound so exciting. This might disappoint fans who were expecting the pair to return with a loud, creative bang. Critical analysis seems to have echoed this sentiment; when it was released in 2015 on a pre-emptive EP of the same name, publications like RA were notably underwhelmed by it.

‘Not Gunna Make It’ is comfortingly familiar to the duo’s traditional sound; it’s a garage-influenced, downtempo, 130-ish bopper with Sepalcure’s trademark drum work. However, although it’s enjoyable, it again doesn’t really push any boundaries – with an obvious focus on house acapella-style vocals and bleepy samples, it feels a bit like Sepalcure’s attempt at mimicking their earlier stuff. Perhaps it’s a bit much to expect the pair to create 130 that also feels edgy and experimental, as it did when the guys’ dropped their first EP in 2010, after all garage-house has been well and truly explored over recent years and the tempo itself just isn’t as out-there as it once was. Still, ‘Not Gunna Make It’ is a well-produced, nostalgic nod to that part of Sepalcure’s progression, and would no doubt still set a dance-floor crowd shuffling.

On ‘Devil Inside’, the guys seem to be shooting for a similar vibe to the one they created with ‘Fight for Us’. The track is chilled and uses colourful drum, guitar and (what sounds like) trumpet samples, as well as emotive fading, reminiscent of fun 80s electronica. Angelica Bess, Sepalcure’s friend and collaborator, is the vocalist here, and it seems as though the guys’ wanted to give her room to showcase her voice, which adds a layer of emotional depth to the track. However, the whole thing is restricted from creativity by the heavy presence of these straightforward vocals, and although there is a soulful vibe it actually feels quite poppy and watered-down, which is frankly disappointing to hear from Sepalcure. ‘Devil Inside’ is not nearly as exciting as some of the other work on ‘Folding Time’.

‘No Honey‘, however, reaches something a lot deeper. The presence of jungle drum patterns and pulsating, barely-there vocal samples takes the listener to a pensive place, much further into their consciousness than the earlier tunes on the album. While ‘No Honey’ largely retains the classic, easy-going Sepalcure vibe, there is a hint to something darker in there, which is interesting. ‘Been So True’ has a similar feel; the heavily ducked reverb and dreamy vocals keep it light hearted, but the drum and bass-style opening and spaced-out snares, along with the seemingly random hip-hop vocal snippet, challenge the listener and give the track a dissociative, almost psychedelic feel.

‘Hearts in Danger’ is a meditative, hip-hop influenced 130-140 tune, with heavy snares and lucid vocal samples. This track is really exciting; distinctly different to the Sepalcure we’re used to, it marks a much murkier point in the progression of the sound on the album. One of the album’s highlights, and a world away from the likes of ‘Fight for Us’, ‘Hearts in Danger‘ proves that Sepalcure are very much in touch with their dark, gritty side, and aren’t afraid to experiment with dubstep sounds to show that off.

With ‘Loosen Up‘, Sepalcure endeavour to do just that; venturing into more upbeat ground to bring us a bouncey, liquid drum and bass track. Machine Drum’s influence is of course felt here, but it’s exciting to hear the guys use the tempo to craft a distinctly quirky Sepalcure sound. Chilled and pretty with a surprisingly deep drop, the spacey vocal and guitar samples conjure images of laid-back summer days, and transport the listener to somewhere carefree. The track is satisfying and certainly whets the appetite for future drum and bass experimentation from the duo.

‘Dub Of’ is another track which completely defies traditional expectations of Sepalcure. With a sub-bass so deep that it’s barely audible without some sort of system, the track is the kind of reggae-influenced dubstep that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Deep Medi set, and would undoubtedly feel great reverberating through the chest on a heavy set of speakers. The depth of the track is perhaps heightened given its unexpectedness, and with this one the guys achieve a really nice, meditative feel. Jah!

‘Brother Forest‘ operates around house tempo and is very techno-influenced, with a focus on building arty, progressive sounds. With a wide range of percussion samples, ‘Brother Forest’ has a complex, emotive vibe, which is broken up and segmented by hard-hitting snares. It feels very current; a demonstration of the influence techno has had on wider electronica over recent years, and reminds us that Sepalcure, as ever, have their finger on what is progressive and know how to push it creatively. ‘Hurts So Bad’, goes beyond what ‘Brother Forest’ achieves. It’s a sort of ambience-noise hybrid, devoid of bpm altogether, which could easily open a progressive techno set but is also completely undefinable by genre. It’s a peak into the void of meddled electronic thought and potential; an ode to a not-so-far-off future where bpm is a forgotten memory, (something already pushed by zany acts like Giant Swan) and where genre fails to restrict expression. It isn’t melodramatic to say that the whole of ‘Folding Time’ feels like it’s been constructed as a progression towards the state of heightened awareness achieved on this track, and the transition from the easy and light-hearted beginning of the album to its deep and challenging ending definitely makes a lot more sense when understood like this.

The closing track, ‘Ask Me’, again functions at drum and bass tempo, but unlike ‘Loosen Up‘, it uses the tempo to reach a meditative, almost spiritual place. It’s deep and warming, with otherworldly female vocals that can never quite be grasped, and a sample of an old man talking seriously – undoubtedly imparting some sort of universal wisdom. It is the slightly trippy, very peaceful, and beautifully mindful ending to the psychedelic journey that is ‘Folding Time’. It’s a little surprising to hear the duo close the album with a dnb track since it’s not a tempo the duo have really showcased before this album, but it serves to remind listeners that what they have come to expect from Sepalcure has passed, at least to a certain extent, to make way for something more insightful.

In all, ‘Folding Time’ tells us of the musical voyage that two creative minds from very different electronic roots have embarked upon, illustrating the influences and ideas which have pushed them to a newly introspective and meditative point. Crammed full of incredible production, it is a truly innovative release that is sure to be remembered as forward-thinking and progressive.

‘Folding Time’ drops on Hotflush on May 13th.


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