Give Me A Reason To Love Drum & Bass

Produced by DJ Die.

Remember Roni Size? His UK Mercury prize-winning album New Forms

was supposed to turn us on once and for all to drum & bass.

New Forms was an audacious blend of club rhythms, divaesque

vocals, and acoustic stand-up basslines that took a lot of

non-club-goers by surprise — though not people who had been going

to clubs, given that some of New Forms was four years old by

the time it was released.

The revolution never happened, though. Drum & bass purists decried

Size's corruption of the form, and for most people the genre is still

just too fast and too remote. New Forms began the humanization

of the genre, though, and, happily, Size is back at it again.

Breakbeat Era is by no means a Roni Size solo project, but it's his

name that opens doors. Fronted by singer Leonie Laws and produced by

Size and longtime collaborator DJ Die, Breakbeat Era's debut

Ultra-Obscene is just as audacious as New Forms, if not

more so. Using drum & bass' skittering rhythms as a foundation instead

of a raison d'etre, the record is dance-floor-ready without

being dance-floor-dependent.

Laws wrote melodies on top of Size and Die's backing tracks, and her

work was careful and passionate — these are songs, not groove

explorations or standard-issue diva-belters. Look no further than

Laws' first appearance on "Rancid" (RealAudio

excerpt) for evidence of her excellent handiwork — over a spare, frenetic beat with organic drums, a fevered vibe-line, and deep-set guitars, Laws draws out a paranoid vocal in staccato bursts. She's carefully written her vocal line to weave around the stuttering snare and kick-bass — it's here, and it's all over the record.

The song "Breakbeat Era" (RealAudio

excerpt) is a strange marvel, as Laws slyly matches the

walking bass with her chorus. Her voice comes across as a tougher

version of Portishead's Beth Gibbons, but without so much artifice.

Gibbons plays a role in each song she sings, while Laws reacts a

little more viscerally.

Live the band is reportedly incendiary — but Size and Die are

nowhere to be found. Instead Laws is accompanied by a bassist,

technician, and (believe it or not) live drummer. Without her more

famous collaborators, the show becomes Laws' to win or lose, and she

succeeds massively, prompting Melody Maker to rave "Leonnie

Laws is so sassy it hurts."

"Sassy" might not be the first thing that comes to mind upon

listening to Ultra-Obscene. Perhaps "seething," or

"impassioned." Still, it's force of personality that propelled

Prodigy from dance floor to MTV, and it might just work for the

edgy, melodic, rock 'n' roll aesthetic that Breakbeat Era brings to

drum & bass. Keep your ears open.