The difficult second album….
A well-worn cliché that’s as relevant now as it was when albums were first invented. A lifetime of ideas and inspiration is funnelled and filtered into your precious debut… But the follow-up stakes are high from the moment it’s released. It’s even worse when your debut is as immaculate as Commix’s debut long player Call To Mind.
Conjured up in a spare room in Guy Brewer’s mum’s house in Cambridge, Call To Mind was created through years of sample experimentation and narrative fine tuning. Over 50 tunes were made during the years that built up to their critically acclaimed release, yet only 12 made the final cut. And one of them was a secret track. That was way back in 2007. Guy and George have the follow up pressure ever since…
“We’ve never, ever wanted to repeat ourselves,” says George Levings succinctly. “Once we finished Call To Mind we went back into the studio and realised that we needed to make big changes to keep things interesting for us and anyone listening. We didn’t want to make a diluted version of our previous work.”
It’s a classic ‘difficult second album’ situation. Yet ironically Call To Mind’s forthcoming successor is actually a collection of tracks almost all made earlier than their debut. Twelve solid gold rollers filtered from a stronghold of 40 archived on old hard drives, they’ve been revisited and re-touched with care. Without so much as a whiff of repetition or regurgitation, each track reveals the innermost workings of Call To Mind. They also act as a very clear line in the sand from the Commix you and I know now… And the Commix we’re about to experience later this year.
“A line in the sand is a good way of putting it,” agrees Guy. “We realised we had so much material that was still valid. It really showed where we were at that moment in time. They just didn’t fit into the jigsaw of Call To Mind.”
Guy continues to explain how many of the cuts on Dusted – each one a 170bpm soul shock out, laden with samples and swift, loose breakbeats – were prototypes for their debut album. Work in progress: you might even recognise occasional samples from their more familiar material. And you’ll definitely recognise the production techniques… Vast, icy pads. Punctuating rhythms with flurries of filter on the breaks. Lolloping, low-swung basslines with occasional flare of teeth-baring Reeces. As Dusted’s subtitle of Selected Works suggests – this truly is classic Commix.
But why now? Sure, they’ve been a major force in D&B for 10 years, but the idea of a ‘Selected Works’ smacks of a retirement fund or possibly even a posthumous collection. Could Commix be carking it? Is this the last you’ll ever read about them?
In a word, no. Of course they’re not about to pack up their synths and buy the farm… But they are making huge changes. And it starts with the name. Commix post-Dusted will now be known as CMX.
“The idea for CMX came about quite a while ago,” admits George. “Because we’re not a purist drum & bass outfit any more we wanted to signify it by remixing the name. We didn’t want to change it, but more an evolution. We won’t deny our past.”
There’s an argument to suggest George and Guy have never been purist D&B… The beauty of Call To Mind was that the occasional dips into downtempo, house and techno gave the drum & bass room to breath. It also gave us an unknowing glimpse into an even more eclectic future.
“Even back then, within the context of what we were doing, it was important to showcase those other styles,” admits Guy. “A lot of it is down to allowing the music to take its shape and almost write itself. Things always change and you need to be open minded to that. The remix album Re:Call To Mind just began as a 12” idea and it grew from that. Even Dusted; the initial plan was to put out two packages with 10 tracks each showing each side of our production but it was whittled down to the very core of our old sampling aesthetic which is the 12 track CD.”
The very same, open-minded process will also be applied for their third LP. And this time we won’t have to wait five years to hear it… The CMX debut is due this winter on Metalheadz. And – shockingly – it’ll be penned by just George himself!
“Well Guy’s working on other projects at the moment, so it seems to make more sense for me to crack on with it on my own,” he explains. “Our whole set-up, structure and techniques have changed. There’ll still be some drum & bass, but it’ll be a lot more eclectic.”
A temporary departure, a name change and the prospect of yet more progression, joining the dots between their past and future sounds… You can’t help but wonder if they’ll be doing this again in five or ten years-time. Drawing another line in the sand, inking the outline for further paintings.
“Ha! Maybe,” chuckles George. “I always want things to evolve naturally. The way we write music has changed but I’ll still be putting the new album together in a similar way – creating as many ideas as possible from now until May then starting the slow process of putting it all together, seeing what works on the canvas and what doesn’t.”
Except this time we won’t have to wait five years to hear it. Here’s to difficult second albums…
Dusted is out on March 5. Pre-order it here. In the meantime, watch out for more exclusive Commix content on D&BTV.