MUSIC

Jamie Stevens – The Wonder of You EP (microCastle)

Back in July of this year, King Unique put up a couple of posts about remixing a beautiful and stunning new track from Jamie Stevens for microCastle. News quickly followed that there was to be a three track EP, with King Unique remixing the lead track. Then, nothing………..until about three weeks ago, when it was announced that Above and Beyond would be showcasing the lead track on their radio show. Tuning in, it was immediately apparent that the wait had not been in vain. Now (at last!) microCastle deliver all  three new  tracks from Jamie Stevens, ‘The Wonder of You’, ‘Dandelion’, and ‘Lullaby (parts I and II)’ – plus, of course, King Unique’s remix.

‘Lullaby’ is actually a continuous piece of music, though there’s discernable structure within that. Part I offers a shimmering, intense Vangelis/Eno/Orbit-inspired soundscape, floating in these ambient waters, swept along by drifting pads and plucked metallic sounds, before a kick-drum creeps underneath, marking the beginning of the transition to the up-tempo second part. Here a wobbly, acid-tinged bassline tears through a cool chord-sequence while snare rolls grab the listener’s attention, and the synths from part I continue to float on top. It’s definitely the weakest of the three new Jamie Stevens tracks on here, but that’s only because of the quality of the other offerings – taken just on its own merits, it’s a really nice and unique piece of work.

The centrepiece of the other b-side, ‘Dandelion’, is a wonderful, intricately arranged tuned-percussion part that rotates through the track and carries the main melody, backed by a chugging bassline and swooping strings. There’s something of an eastern feel to the melodies and vocal samples here, giving it an atmosphere similar to Jamie Stevens’ incredible remix of Dibby Dougherty and David Young’s track ‘The Black Smoke’ on Stripped last year. The breakdown is a real highlight, featuring a surprisingly mournful melody underpinned by live kit sounds forming a gentle but insistent breakbeat which lifts the track back to the surface. If this had proved to be the melodic wonder I’d waited months to hear, I’d have been quite satisfied. I just wouldn’t have known what I was missing out on.

The lead track, ‘The Wonder of You’, initially masquerades as a fairly standard slice of melodic techno, with gorgeous sequenced melodies and chord-changes rolling around on top of a restrained backdrop. The beautiful main melody soon enters, first carried by a bluesy guitar and quickly echoed by a glassier synth, and periodic string flourishes begin to clue the reader into the scale of Jamie Stevens’ ambitions for the track. The breakdown strips proceedings down to just the guitar, before the other elements of the track start to reemerge just in time for the string-led drop. Here we realize the degree to which Jamie Stevens has been holding things back for the second half of the track, as the heart-melting strings really start to soar and the handclap is allowed off the leash, having been used sparingly for punctuation in the buildup to this moment. As the main melody reestablishes itself, the musical elements of the track combine to yield one of the most perfect, emotional, and exciting sequences I’ve heard all year. This is utterly inspired stuff from Jamie Stevens; I just adore this.

King Unique has a track record of turning in some of the best remixes, well, ever really, and his recent work has been particularly outstanding: think ‘I Don’t Want It’; think ‘Something’; think ‘Bilder’!! And that’s not to mention his massive remix of Andre Sobota for microCastle last year, which even managed to claim a place in the Beatport progressive house top 100, without compromising on credibility or quality. Here he’s wisely decided that Jamie Stevens’ own version has already maxed out on loveliness, and so he should focus his talents on offering the biggest, nastiest take on the track possible without losing contact with it’s strongest ideas. The result loops weird vocal samples and fragments of the melodies and strings from the original, churning them into huge buildups that serve to unleash the remix’s bassline. King Unique posted the first clips of his remix with the comment ‘I made a bass’, and it’s easy to see what he was getting at; experiencing it is the sonic equivalent of being Luke in The Empire Strikes Back as Vader throws bits of the fabric of the Cloud City at his head – but in a good way. I miss the emotional punch of the original, I have to admit, but kudos to King Unique for really taking the track in a different direction, and seeing the potential to transform it from a melodic wonder into a roof-raising monster.

microCastle have only released two other EPs this year, the other two being Deepfunk and Kassey Voorn’s ‘Where You Are’ and Andre Sobota’s ‘Pulsatilla’. There are tough acts to following, but this latest offering from Jamie Stevens keeps the label’s quality sky-high. All the tracks are brilliant, but ‘The Wonder of You’ stands out as one of the musical highlights of the year for me. It’s been a long wait for this package, but it really delivers; this is very special indeed. 9/10

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