Breakbeat Era are singer-songwriter Lennie Laws and fellow Bristolians - and Mercury prize-winners - Roni Size and DJ Die, and Ultra Obscene has been hotly anticipated since their eponymous debut single found its way into the top 20 last year. And "Breakbeat Era", with its groovy, walking double-bass, smooth, rolling beats and Laws's soulful vocals, remains the best track on this album.
Elsewhere the beats are sharper and the bass tougher and less organic, while on tracks like "Rancid", "Anti-Everything" and "Animal Machine", Laws sings like a cross between Nina Simone and P J Harvey. His heartfelt yet cynical words find a fertile middle-ground between the meaningless MC-ing or samples of divas that have been twinned with drum'n'bass thus far and are a match for Size and Die's tough production. Together, they have fashioned the first successful vocal d'n'b album.
OMNI TRIO: BYTE SIZE LIFE (Moving Shadow)
Rob Haigh did his innovating years ago, when his first Omni Trio albums introduced a lusher, more melodic vibe to the dark hardcore sound of early-Nineties drum'n'bass. Now that the trend has reversed and either hard, jump-up beats or a live jazzy sound are in vogue, it's refreshing to hear that Omni Trio's new album is really not very different from the previous three. Defiantly electronic and exquisitely crafted, Byte Size Life marries precise but complex rolling beats to warm fluid basslines, ethereal strings and melodic riffs. Although the likes of L T J Bukem and Blame have proved that such tracks work well on the dancefloor, Omni Trio's build-ups are so subtle and controlled, they're more lie-back than jump-up. At just over an hour, Byte Size Life slips by so swiftly and smoothly, it's the aural equivalent of a glass of Baileys on ice.