Artist: Quivver
Title: Dirty Nails And Vapour Trails
Label: Boz Boz Recordings
By: Rami Dahud | 3 October 2008
  1. Intro
  2. Surin
  3. Chasin A Feeling
  4. What’s Not Going On
  5. Tick Tick
  6. 2 Notes ‘N’ A Beat
  7. Dancing In Dark Rooms
  8. Fallin’
  9. Ghosts
  10. These Are The Days

Quivver "Dirty Nails And Vapour Trails"Quivver "Dirty Nails And Vapour Trails"

Out Now on Boz Boz Recordings

Unless you've made a deliberate and conscious effort against it, you've probably encountered John Graham in one of his various incarnations within electronic dance music. Rather than being consigned to any particular genre of production, Graham has demonstrated himself to be one of the most versatile figures in dance music with productions spanning over fifteen years. From his developments within and beyond his fledgling drum’n’bass days, to his highly successful presence in the progressive trance scene in the late 90s and early 2000s (you'd be hard pressed to find anyone unwilling to include 'Stage One' as a hallmark of this movement), to the ensnaring atmosphere that dominates his 'Space Manoeuvres' project, Graham's accolades have maintained a dominating presence in the ever-changing landscape of dance music.

Considering the extent of Graham's career, a debut artist album that reflects past and present appears a notably difficult task indeed. Nevertheless, this is precisely what he has put forth in this latest effort under his ‘Quivver’ guise. Having already released an artist album in the shape of ‘Oid’ through his Space Manoeuvres alias, the dynamics between that album and this new one are dramatically different, as 'Oid' was the concept album of an equally conceptual project, whereas this release provides a much more comprehensive depiction of the artist as a whole. As such, this amounts to the wonderfully and richly holistic mosaic that is “Dirty Nails and Vapour Trails”.

What this artist has created in this debut is not merely an existing snapshot of the artist in his current state, but rather, a finely balanced exposition of material that incorporates a sense of connectedness to the sounds and styles that have been long associated with Quivver. Looking at this through a structural perspective, “Dirty Nails and Vapour Trails” could pass for a manual on how to construct an effective artist album. With ten tracks on the album, the arrangement is by no means coincidental. Subdued, but busy developmental material abounds throughout the first half while intense, highly danceable material is a feature around the midpoint. Towards the latter part, gentle, atmospheric ambient productions slowly ease us out of the album. Coupled with the quality of the material found on this album, the formula works with remarkable success.

A man of multiple faces, Quivver opens things with a sense of playful eeriness in a way reminiscent of another alias, that being ‘Stoneproof’. While not overtly obvious, you can’t help but think this is undoubtedly something produced by Quivver. The album sets course with the popularized and well-received “Surin”, initiating everything on the foundation of subtle 4/4 progressive beats and a relaxed melody that settles us into an appropriate opening groove. From here, Quivver utilizes his old Skanna persona with the brisk, upbeat drum’n’bass stomper “Chasin’ A Feelin”. This manages to sound fresh and relevant while providing a nostalgic view of the past which amounts to a thoroughly satisfying listen.

“What’s Not Going On” maintains a smooth sense of flow with the preceding material, highlighted by crunchy bass lines and Quivver’s equally intense vocal work, effectively complimenting its connoted theme and mood. With the idea of ‘mood’ in mind, the album then proceeds into its finest stretch, and also the sort of Quivver material many have come to know and love over the past several years: brooding, intense progressive house. Perhaps nothing better captures these aesthetic qualities than the three tracks which constitute its midpoint.

“Tick Tick” kicks up the pace and pulse of the album marking a clear and upfront transition into early peak time progressive territory. “2 Notes ‘N’ A Beat” keeps everything on the same page whilst injecting a delightfully fierce sense of atmosphere while “Dancing In Dark Rooms” caps off the peak time rush with a recipe that has Graham written all over it.

Indicating a move towards the more chilled chapter of “Dirty Nails and Vapour Trails” is “Darkrooms Dub” which scales down the beat driven mood of the album somewhat to make for gorgeous ambience and haunting background vocals, resulting in the perfect exit from the outgoing material. The album continues its gentle descent with “Ghosts” which finds Graham’s vocals taking center stage among light break beats and quirky melodic development, though it feels better suited within the album’s earlier moments. Finally, the album closes with the enveloping ambience of “These Are The Days”. Once again, Quivver’s superb vocal work amounts to a dramatic enhancement towards the style and conceptual implications on the album. This, therefore, completes the album on precisely the right note.

Listeners of this album will notice the sharp divisions in its roughly three phases and constructing the album along such rigid lines most definitely works in its favour. Aside from providing the album with a noticeable sense of progression, and one which guides the listener through all the right moods, the structure of this album allows Quivver the opportunities to demonstrate his adeptness as an artist. This can be seen in the predominantly ambient productions through to drum’n’bass and then onto progressive house, not to mention his vocal accomplishments as well as the occasional nod towards yesteryears. In each of these varying facets, it’s clear that Quivver sounds and feels very much at home..

The only difficulty in this regard comes from the album’s relative lack of volume. Transitions between moods and phases are identifiably pronounced and most pleasing, but the album’s relatively sparse feel detracts from the sense of meaningfulness these transitions could otherwise provide. This is especially prevalent during the album’s closing moments where concepts like ‘meaning’ and ‘closure’ factor in to a more significant extent.

Make no mistake, however, this is a superb execution of a formidable task and its somewhat inhibiting shortcomings are outshone by the many things it gets right. Although perhaps best appreciated by fans of Quivver himself, “Dirty Nails and Vapour Trails” provides enough content to satisfy the tastes of many an electronic dance music listener. The aforementioned stylistic variety persists throughout the entire duration of this album, and regardless of which John Graham alias you like best, you'll find yourself running into a little bit of each on this album.

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