Artist: James Zabiela
Title: The Perseverance EP
Label: Renaissance Recordings
By: Carleton Neil | 18 February 2008
  • A: Perseverance
  • B: No Other Way But Down
  • C: Human (Intro Version)
  • D: Phaser Fire

James Zabiela "The Perseverance EP"

Out Now on Renaissance Recordings

There was a musician once, brought under Sasha's wing, who became popular worldwide. He had an ear for sound with a knack for programming and made all the rounds on the electronic music circuit: productions spanning several releases, featured guest on the Essential Mix; all the same places many others show off their skills.

Brian Transeau perhaps? You're ten years too early.

It was instead James Zabiela, CDJ expert and Reason champion, now producing tracks from his hotel room while he's out on tour instead of his bedroom. With his blend of funky glitchy electro-tech that meanders between house and breaks whenever and however the mood suits him, James Zabiela's unique style has made him a hot commodity, remixing the likes of Röyksopp, Pole Folder & CP, and Sasha himself. He collaborated with favourite Nic Fanciulli as One + One for Ministry of Sound on a mix comp of the same name, constructing a musical Venn diagram of tech, electro-funk and loungey/jazzy ambience.

With a track record like Zabiela's, he has practically raised the bar to up under his chin and it seems he's realized this in his latest, 'The Perseverance EP', where you'll find him stretching toward all edges of that Venn diagram and pushing beyond it.

If we require Mr. Zabiela to struggle on, he cleverly demands that of us as well in the first track, 'Perseverance'. Not for long though, as it soon becomes evident that while he starts with some flimsy claps and tinny snares, the strength of ‘Perseverance’ doesn't come from its percussion but his mastering of fills and backdrop of intense vocal editing. The fact is the track is built around the vocal, namely one appropriately chosen word: 'try'. Zabiela tries, and does succeed, chopping up vocals, inflections and diphthongs onto a musical canvas to the degree that the words lose literary meaning and become musical sound. He creates order out of verbal chaos, weaving in weeping synths and forlorn bass lines; when he makes his stand in the breakdown, Zabiela is unafraid of banging out some emotive chord progression to show there's more to him than skill with the stutter. The fact that 'Perseverance' almost sounds like it would fit comfortably on an Underworld album is a testament to the change in direction he's taken this track.

The EP's second track is the self-aware 'No Other Way But Down': Zabiela is a man on top of his game who finds himself in a situation with only one direction left to go. Starting with enough cowbell to make even Christopher Walken take pause, it tweeters its way to the room where it sounds like Zabiela has locked David Gahan in a room with a 303, refusing to let him out until he's constructed a track in triplets for him. Growing in layers, the track warms up like a cold music box that chews up vocals and spits out whistles and hi-hats; add on top some innocent melodics that run along with childlike curiosity and you've got it.

The Intro version of 'Human' features just that, an extended ambient beginning that adds vocals repeating with crooning adamancy to the One+One version that was featured on said mix compilation. Sporting the same bump'n'rumble bass lines and syncopated digital orchestra bells, 'Human' juxtaposes a gritty low-end with spacious synths that span a wide sound scape.

Out of all the tracks on the EP, 'Phaser Fire' is the track that could be considered most as standard Zabiela fare: carbon-scored bass lines and a hard snare draw the battle lines for heated discourse between one heavily vocodered vocal ordering volleys of 8-bit warfare versus the monosyllabic chanting of another encouraging a strafing run of fills and edits. The determined synths, if not a fitting nod to the NES classic 'Blaster Master' are a good sign that James is still confident in his abilities.

One must adapt to survive and on this EP James Zabiela's ability to juggle genres in his previous mixes has given him many paths to explore in his productions now and those to come. As long as he can move from one niche to another should the need arise, the Rave Lizard will continue to persevere.

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