Label – Good Looking (EARTHCD001 / EARTHLP001)
Format – CD, LP
Country – UK
Released – 1996
Genre – Drum and Bass, downtempo
Earth Volume One was my first ever experience of Drum and Bass. Played through the sound system of my work colleague’s Peugeot 205 (with 12″ subwoofer!) through an Alpine tape deck, I was instantly hooked on the sublime rhythms and intricate production of the tunes.
Looking back I can appreciate how different this type of music sounded from anything I had previously heard. I was 21 and my musical diet was a steady mixture of pop, rock and bits of heavy metal (plus an early obsession with Jean-Michel Jarre). Hearing this album for the first time awakened something inside me, a desire to seek out other new music that I had not experienced before.
Heavily influenced by jazz and downtempo sounds, the artists on the Good Looking label were brought together by LTJ Bukem, or Danny Williamson as his mum calls him. Ten luscious, dreamy and downright spine-tingling productions which set the benchmark for “intelligent Drum and Bass” as it came to be known (pretentious title, but we’ll let that slide). D’n’B luminaries such as Doc Scott and Blame supplied their own take on the genre, along with lesser-known artists such as Pablo and Subject 13, and the label Godfather himself providing one of his all-time best tracks to the compilation.
We begin the journey with Poets of Thought, and their scratchy, funky number the rhyme goes on. Cut-up vocals and a repeating drum loop provide the basis for this tune, with a steady bassline and effects that fade in and out as the track progresses. This is a great introduction to the album, it sets the mood nicely.
Next up we have Appaloosa with travelling, which has a much more uptempo drum pattern allied to vocal samples and a gliding synth line. Then after the first minute, the bass kicks in and carries you away. This is a free-rolling track that keeps things moving along and whenever the bassline fades back into the main tune you unconsciously start nodding your head in time.
Third track is Subject 13, with faith. This tune has a serious, and I mean serious bassline. The first minute and a half of this track draws you in with a rapid-fire drum loop, and then the bass comes in and it’s like low-end heaven. Whilst the bass keeps rolling, we are then treated to a nice groovy synth pattern and some background effect to accompany the drum track. 3 minutes 30 into the track and another rhythmic synth pops up for a bit, then fades out again so that we are just left with the drums and the bass, until another little piano interlude just before the end…one of the highlights of the album.
Contrast the laid back grooves we have heard so far with the up-front drum track that starts up track 4, above and beyond by PHD and the Funky Technicians (cool name or what!?). Layered synth pads accompany the drums and seem to swirl about, taking the hard edge off of the drums as the loop repeats, a nice compact bassline popping in and out to remind the woofer that it’s still got a job to do. About 5 minutes into the 8-minute running time we are treated to a break in the frenetic drums before it all builds up again to a climax.
Poets of Thought are back for track 5, samba with j.c. This is another funky effort, with more laid back rhythms and a brassy jazz-like feel. There is a kind of samba rhythm throughout the tune, to be honest this is probably my least favourite track on the album but it’s still enjoyable enough without bringing anything too different to the party.
Drum and Bass heavyweight Blame is up next with revival, a tune which starts off with a nice piano melody and some other synth effects and a nice complementary bassline. Things get seriously groovy a couple of minutes in, and the drums, bass and synths find a natural harmony together. I have no idea what the few lines of vocals are about in the middle of the track, but they provide a short break before everything starts up again and the established rhythm continues until fade out…
If you like your songs to be lengthy and repetitious, you’ll like do what you gotta do by Pablo. This track is all about building up a solid tempo of drums, bass and synths before hitting you with a repeated vocal phrase. This works well but could probably do with being a couple of minutes shorter.
Poets of Thought return again for jamming the session, their last contribution to the album. This one tries to conjure up the image of a smoky jazz club, and for the most part succeeds with a funky downtempo beat and some brass and flute-like instrumentations.
The main man Bukem steps in for the penultimate tune, moodswings. Oh, and what a tune it is! Beginning with a sublime piano melody and a hypnotic drum beat, we are then treated to some chilled vocals and a bit of brass. Building up the atmosphere with small variations to the main melody whilst keeping the same insistent drum pattern makes for a truly relaxing experience.
Last but definitely by no means least we have Doc Scott’s tokyo dawn. A fantastic track to end the album with, this is a full of shimmering synths and deep-as-the-ocean bass along with a perfect implementation of the famous Amen drum break.
This isn’t really an album to dance to, even though you’ll probably find it in the Dance music section of many shops. There is a great blend of jazz, breaks and beats with enough variety to keep you interested over the whole running time. None of the tracks feel like fillers and they all contribute something original and different to the overall piece.
I’ve collected pretty much the entire catalogue of Good Looking records and the offshoot labels, and this is still the one album that I return to more than any of the others (along with the first Logical Progression, but that’s for another review!).
If you have never heard the jazzy, downtempo side of Drum and Bass before, you could do far worse than to start here. It may be nearly 20 years old, but I think it still sounds pretty fresh today.
As MC Conrad says, “it’s all a matter of opinion”.
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