The title's fitting for an album that takes a trip through breakbeat history
A Life In Breaks. The heartfelt tale of a brittle-boned b-boy? The white-knuckle autobiography of a serial taker of short holidays? Don’t be daft, it’s the debut LP by one DJ Wool, AKA Glen Brady.
Brady is a man who has indeed spent his entire adult life in and around fractured drum arrangements. From his roots as a DMC-competing turntablist, through the organic drums of mid-noughties indie-fusion duo The Glass, to his current immersion in analogue and modular machinery, a great deal of his output has been underpinned or framed by a breakbeat. Yet this is his first solo album.
Beneficially so… with over 20 years in the game, this is far from a quickly cobbled bunch of bangers. Instead, A Life In Breaks is the sound of a man writhing not only in his own musical reflections but in the history of electronic beatcraft full stop. Turning stones and riffing references from the b-boy, MPC-smashing roots to space-aged drum & bass, via timeless Berlinian tech-laced electronica, Wool is in his element. At a stage of his career where he has the machines and the time to pen a love letter to the sounds that have inspired him, the whole collection rolls with a slick sonic consistency and confidence.
This is evident from the opener Booty From The Future, a spacey ode to our b-boy forefathers contemporised by a dubby, rolling groove that could easily be his old labelmates 2020 Soundsystem covering an Information Society record. It’s followed by The Fighter, a dark nod to electro and hip-hop with demonic, iced-out, almost grime-like textures. Unhurried in its grim tidings, it reflects the pace of much of the album... Like Kings Men, for example, is Orbital melting down main stages at -10, while Into The 20s is a wonderfully sedated take on the crystalline riffs of mid-00s Get Physical.
Elsewhere, both Confessions Of A 90s DJ and Dad’s Not Shakey are snapshots of the window between big beat and UKG when breakbeat spawned some of its brightest sparks, while Miracles Never Cease flexes back to the schools of Mo’ Wax and Nightmares On Wax and Yong Jung peeps back to Moving Shadow’s mid-90s jungle. All of which are executed with little overspend in nostalgia; rather, they attempt to break down with it was about those sounds that turned our heads in the first place.
Which brings us to the album’s only real sticking point - its indulgent, involved nature. If you’re a fan of the breakbeat, if you marvel at how it’s drawn a line through almost everything we’ve played or danced to, and perhaps have lived through some of the earlier chapters recalled by Wool, this album will almost certainly satisfy - if not as a whole listening experience, then definitely particular tracks. If you're not quite so fixated with fractures, however, this won’t hit as hard.
These are, of course, the breaks. Something many of us, like Brady, have spent our lives in.
Words: Dave Jenkins
Release date: Out now
Review Score: 8