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Substax - Album Review: Linear Shift

26 May 2022 // A review by Steve Shyu

Those familiar with Kiwi dub and breakbeat music will likely be familiar with the name Substax, the electronic musical duo consisting of Nick Farrands and Claudia Gunn, who have been in the scene for well over twenty years. And those not yet familiar with Substax will undoubtedly get a good introduction with their newest full-length release Linear Shift.

At first listen, it’s clear there’s a wide variety of influences to catch throughout the record. From the bleep-boping psychedelia of Computer Seeks Computer (of which there’s a visualiser video available on YouTube), to the delicious pop hooks on Pop Music Emergency, and the trance-heavy namesake tune Linear Shift.

For something more urban, there’s Psyche, or Tea on the Lawn Close Encounters. Shuffling hip-hop rhythms and bouncing bass hooks, woven with deeply atmospheric synths will turn your daily commute into an uplifting journey. It did for me, at least! Substax have spent plenty of time in all these aural realms back in the 2000’s, and it’s always refreshing to hear these styles holding strong.

If coffee-shop-on-a-warm-afternoon is your kind of feel, then look no further than Light as Air, or On the Road. The crisp Euro-house beat, atmospheric synth lines, the hypnotic vocal samples make the songs equal parts energising and relaxing.

The writing and instrumentation on more stripped-back tracks like Time Part 1 and Memory are absolutely exquisite. The latter, interestingly, seems to have been saved for the album closer. The heart wrenchingly sweet vocals, the warmth of the piano, and the retrospective lyrics certainly misted up my eyes. Like a heartfelt blend of the Beatles’s Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds with Steven Wilson’s Collapse the Light Into Earth, both gorgeous songs in their own right, and Memory seems to hold its own on the album, albeit as the closing act on the record.

Vocalist Claudia Gunn’s tenure as a music producer and songwriter shines through again and again proving its worth, as the vocal hooks bravely skip across octaves, in a way that serves the song as well as showing artistic flair.

Many acclaimed albums, as renowned and impactful as they may be, are not without flaws; just what is up with the constant clash of cymbals on Ideas? The soulful melodies and sunny keyboards felt interrupted with hearty uses of crashes and ride cymbals. One also couldn’t help but notice there are a couple of tracks that ramp up with a playful inertia, only to have it end abruptly. 808 Hustle and Where Your Going are examples of this; just as the tune is starting to take form it winds down, leaving the listeners wanting more, after realising it was a mere interlude.

With that said, heavy praise must be given for the peak brilliance that is The Ocean; the vocal delivery is astounding, with keyboards and synths filling every corner. What makes the song so delightfully addictive to listen to is the groove-heavy bass synth matched with the skittering drums. Be sure to hit play on this one. Then a few more times after that.

Also, there’s something spiritual about the experience of listening to Computer Seeks Computer on a good quality set of speakers or headphones up loud with a glass of your favourite, so you may as well add that track to your “Repeat Listens” playlist for future reference.

Linear Shift as a full-length record has a lot to offer, no doubt thanks to Nick and Claudia’s time spent working in different musical environments. A good portion of the tracks dance very delicately on the fine line between soothing and downbeat, but also energising and dance-able. Elsewhere, there are lush layers of keyboards, paired with tasteful vocal melodies and catchy synth hooks. This record isn’t out to show that Substax can rival present-day fandangled electronic outfits, but that they are holding true to their signature styles and still be relevant in the modern sense. And they’re damned good at doing it.

Rating: ( 4 / 5 )
 

About Substax

New Zealand alternative electronic music act Substax are genre bending pioneers of electro soul and breakbeat. Based in Auckland/Tamaki Makaurau, they produce a unique fusion of soul, funk, breakbeat and deep house. Reviewers describe their sound as everything from "epic downbeat" to "achingly beautiful", "seductive" (Remix Magazine) and "speaker cone cracking breakbeat" (Waikato Times). They are renowned both for their downtempo epic downbeat as well as breakbeat influenced club tracks.

The act is the audio duo of producer, Nick Farrands and vocalist/producer Claudia Gunn. Farrands is the co-founder of a boutique club night in Auckland, Videotech, which features the work of VJ and co-founder Rachel Dreyer. Gunn, is an award winning children’s music producer in her own right and brings her singer-songwriter craft to Substax productions.

The act has been involved with numerous compilation releases, renowned music festival and club performances and had strong support from alternative radio and NZ dance music station, George FM, over the years.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Substax

Releases

Linear Shift
Year: 2022
Type: Album
Electro Soul Plane
Year: 2005
Type: Album

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