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Album Review
Pretty Ugly

Pretty Ugly
by DVA

Hyperdub Records

Review Date
19th March 2012
Reviewed by
Martyn Pepperell

Best known for the time he spent presenting taste-making London radio station Rinse FM's breakfast show, Hyperdub affiliate DVA is also a well rounded, highly creative beat architect and record producer. Positioned within the bloody beating heart of London's more forward looking dance music circles, his compositions slide fluidly between the intersecting lines of circuitry which connect various contemporary electronic dance forms such as grime, funky, techno and broken beat.

With Pretty Ugly, while maintaining the threads of feeling that connect his past singles and EPs, DVA ramps things up to the next level, roping in vocalists Fatima, Cornelia, Vikter Duplaix, Zaki Ibrahim, AL, Natalie Maddix and Muhsinah. Working with these distinctive, emotive voices in mind, DVA encases their rich tones in compelling rhythmic sequences, physically visceral bass bedding and colourful synthetic melody arrangements. In combination, these elements recall the computer animation sequences films such as The Lawnmower Man use to express the idea of fully immersive cyberspace. By virtue of strong choruses and lead lines, DVA takes these vocal works into a weird pop landscape, capturing the essence of mainstream diva dance hits, yet subverting it with the unquantifiable otherness which underscores much of Hyperdub's kaleidoscopically diverse catalogue of releases.

With seven richly coloured vocal workouts spread across Pretty Ugly's twelve song running out, DVA devotes the remaining five compositions to a focused showcase of his abilities as an instrumental songwriter. Whether working in vocal or instrumental mode, the key singularity evident throughout the album is DVA's refreshing disregard for generic paint-by-numbers arrangement. If he can tweak a tempo somewhere conventional wisdom wouldn't place it, he will. Should he find a synth tone that isn't the norm, he'll throw it in there. Tension and release, upset, realigning balance and a pursuit of the edge. Of course you can't stay on the edge forever, but you can sure as hell ride it till the wheels fall off, crash and come again.

Hyperdub's press bureau spotlight DVA's ability to create "...his own unique, colour filled, 3D sound," and through the thick subs of 'Bare Fuzz' and the imperial grime march of 'Where I Belong', this hyperbole rings true in both actuality and enthusiasm. Equally, hearing Vikter Duplaix drape his syrupy neo soul over the squelchy grooves of 'Madness' provides a thrill on multiple levels - it's aural impact and the fact these two minds actually met up. Another high note 'Just Vybe', again triggers physically tangible pleasure in a hearty marriage between rich digital textures, warm RnB and stuttering drum programming. Meanwhile, the twirling melodies on 'Polyphonic Dreams' and 'The Big 5ive' only expand on DVA's exploration of sonic pleasure.

Ultimately, a centrality to Pretty Ugly is how well it hangs together as a cohesive full-length listening experience. Constructing an electronic long-player which makes sense as a journey and contains singles with a sustained release impact is no mean feat. DVA's work might be understated compared to SBTRKT and his peers, but that is okay. When you can smoulder your way into the listeners sub-consciousness on your own terms, why go for the jugular like every other vampire?


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