Dovs – Silent Cities (Acid Test, 2019)

A superb LP crafted in the hands of masters of the 303, in the pursuit of electronic soul perfection.

Quite the paring, really. It’s not often that one sound can be continued throughout a whole record, without it all starting to sound a little too familiar and over done. But when the people behind the music craft it so that this element drifts and moves as the focus, to the background, then the foreground, then into the core of the song, it all starts to feel alive and continually relevant, that element working softly and effectively to nurture a series of soundscapes. The 303 is the element we’re talking about here, and Dovs, aka Tin Man and Aaaa, use it masterfully. Many just use it sparingly, and many use it as a novelty, to inject some life into an EP or a long player that provides a slight level of intrigue beyond chords, beats and euphoria. Not many of them truly use the machine with heart, soul and meaning; technique and belief make this machine capable of such majestic things, and this is evident throughout this album of squelchy, deep hue warmness.

Both known for their work within the acid genre, be it the quirky and hard vibes from Aaaa, or Tin Man’s exploration of the old school through his principled and extremely calculated production style and musicality. A collab between the two makes perfect sense, with the results a blend of atmospheric chords, deep and dense drumming patterns, and that 303 that just joins in whenever it can! ‘Acid Test 14’, that came out earlier this year, was a sign of the times for the duo, along with 2018s ‘Interdimensional Grid’ EP. A chemistry is certainly evident here, with both in some ways creating this middle ground between their respective styles, both giving into the 303 as the guiding tool, and using it to full advantage both from an emotional and technical point of view. lets get into this!

The album starts off with ‘Rad Flyers for all’, and seems a fitting opener. A strong, up and at them clap induced, hi hats aplenty kind of beat bubbles away underneath, and in many ways acts as second fiddle to the acidic goodness throbbing away on top. A number of different lines come into play, a more slow and steady series of harmonic stabs alongside ones that just throw themselves into the mix from time to time. The song does a good job at finding a middle ground between moments where the song builds in momentum, with the 303 falling away to reveal a song build on its rhythm, before it all swings back into play. Marvellous. ‘Distant Builds Up’ kicks in, and sets the scene with its masterful chords and soft kicks. A little key line guides the rest of the elements, before the acid line takes centre stage, moving from foreground and background, swaying with the song and movin’ with the times. ‘Fluffy Designs’ comes next, and provides a little bit of calm from two songs that were straight up. This one literally feels like an acid test, exploring the full emotional capabilities of the 303. This is what many producers miss when using this tool or one of its clones; Tin Man and Aaaa show here its full potential, not as an afterthought that slots into a mediocre house tune, but something that stands along, revelling in its beauty and its simplicity. They aren’t the first artists to explore this notion, but they do a fucking great job at it.

‘Nostalgic Oblivion’ comes in next, and gets right in there with another hefty and rhythmically simple beat, but there’s something brewing in the air. This one builds one the subtle introduction of the 303, with soft and drippy/trippy synth pads take the lead on this, as the acid sort of just kicks dust around in the background. This tune also feels way more dense than the previous tunes, in terms of the synth elements adding a volume to this one, which ain’t a bad thing. Its allowed the tune to build and build, and that allows for some interesting evolutions on the dancefloor. ‘Rene Figures’ comes next, with a real tight electro beat and feel, before the 4onthefloor element comes storming in. Soft little chords, and an almost crying acid sound permeate through this, like a bright light peering through the clouds. The various synths add into this, forming a tight relationship with each other as they bond and groove together. Then, the chords for once take centre stage, with a really beautiful sequence lighting the song up. The album was ready for this moment, and the duo placed it perfectly at this time. A proper, proper hands in the air moment. Jaw droppin! ‘Portal Vein’ is up next, and serves up some more minimal drumming with that old friend the 303 doing its magic. Here the acid line is very consistent, whereas before it drifted in and around more so, but here it feels very much like the song was defined around it and its sound. But even then, the rest of the song rises, recedes and shines in tune with it, and that craft is really beautiful to listen to. The elements so in sync, the transitions so on point, the feeling remains endless. This might be the highlight of the whole record.

‘Sixteen shelters’ comes next, and is another excursion into the realms of the 303s capabilities. Its like these guys have really just unlocked what it can properly do, across the spectrum, and blended synths and everything around it, creating a real distinctive sound. A italio chug represents the acid here, as high shrilling synths do their stuff above, like a ballerina on tip toes. High octane, brimming with energy, this is a real belter, proper close your eyes for a moment like. ‘Whining Acid’ comes next, and maybe lament is more the word here? either way, as with ‘Fluffy Designs’, provides a moment of reflection amongst the swirling energy. Here, we appreciate, and pause, with two artists who properly respect and appreciate this instrument, and allow us to dip our toe into this song. Slow, real soft, gorgeous, this is the one. ‘Atlantis Drive’ comes next, and is once again showing this quite playful side to the record. A nice and stable beat gives a platform for acid lines and synths to playfully dance around in an almost chaotic harmony, but the beat always reels them back in. Its those little variations that provide interest, and give lots of sparks that keep our heads nodding along. ‘Dysphoric Fix’ is the second to last tune, and its one final breather on an album threaded together by the ACDDIIDDD. Another slow slow burner, the 303 permeates and glides, with no seemingly obvious structure other than an inherent focus on its melodic abilities. Captivating, it is really something else to just sit there and appreciate it. Finally, we have ‘Diazepam Blues’, and what a rounder off this song is. Striking a balance with all the tunes on this record, the acid moves and grooves, the beat is consistant and on point, and everythin here is just great. The concept of using the 303 as the main melodic drive for a whole album is so bold, but this album, and this song is particular, just shows what these guys are all about. Sheer elation.

Tin Man and Aaaa understand this vibe, and it shows. As was mentioned previously, there aren’t many artists who could explore what this instrument could do for a whole record. Luke Vibert, Aphex, A Guy Called Gerald, Hieroglyphic Being, and the like, all do this well, due to their dedication to it, the craft of considering how these sounds operate within the spectrum of their own musical visions and worlds. Dovs do exactly that, and just show how this tradition is still alive and kicking, and represents a unique and noteworthy LP from this year. Bravo lads!

Support the troops:

https://acidtestrecords.bandcamp.com/album/dovs-silent-cities

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