Back when genres still mattered, Mount Kimbie—a duo hailing from England, where genre names flourish like bizarre slang for snacks—took pains to distance itself from the “post-dubstep” tag it had been saddled with. “Post-dubstep is kind of a shitty name,” Kai Campos and Dominic Maker said in a Red Bull Music Academy video titled, tellingly, “Don’t Call It Post Dubstep,” pointing out that the umbrella term unfairly lumped together an entire continuum of British dance music, and was “hypercritical and self-deprecating” besides—diminishing your own music as a response to a style that’s still extant and plenty vague itself. Really, “post-dubstep” is just a clumsy way of saying, “We like big bass sounds and synthesizers, but we don’t sound like Skrillex,” but that’s not nearly catchy enough. So “post-dubstep” stuck, and Mount Kimbie has been one of its torchbearers ever since 2010’s dreamy, 3 a.m. banger for the nightclub-of-your-mind Crooks & Lovers gave critics something to point to.
But whatever the hell “post-dubstep” meant, it became even less aptly applied to 2013’s Cold Spring Fault Less Youth, a vibrant, varied record that allowed live rock instruments, motorik rhythms, and a noticeable mess to puncture its carefully blown bubbles. More importantly, it added vocals—Campos and Maker’s own narcotized croons, but most notably those of King Krule, a.k.a. Archy Marshall, whose rude-boy, defiantly slack jawing gave their music a street-tough edge. The duo has spoken of how much Marshall’s “energy” inspired its new Love What Survives, but more than that, it seems to have given Mount Kimbie a whole new purpose: as backing band for a rotating lineup of other artists. The result is an album that’s certainly lively and often lovely, but also a tad indistinct, as whatever identity Mount Kimbie has (even something as vague as “post-dubstep”) tends to get subsumed by whoever happens to be on the mic.
Of these guests, King Krule once again muscles his way to the front with “Blue Train Lines,” a three-pints-in tale of “another fuckin’ fight, a junkie queue” in which Marshall’s rants grow more desperate and incoherent as his voice gets rawer, backed by an insistently buzzing synth and post-punk bass. On “You Look Certain (I’m Not So Sure),” Andrea Balency’s alternately breathy and flat, French-accented sing-song combines with a churning krautrock guitar to create a pretty decent Stereolab imitation. And for “Marilyn,” Campos and Maker surround Micachu (a.k.a. Mica Levi) with ghostly chimes that tinkle like a waterlogged music box behind her strange, spiraling vocal melody.
Campos and Maker’s longtime pal James Blake drops by for two tracks that, well, sound very much like James Blake: “We Go Home Together” stands out for its unvarnished simplicity, pairing Blake’s robot choirboy voice, here pushed to the bleeding edges of its register, with little more than some gently whirring soul organ and a tambourine. But on closer “How We Got By,” aside from sections that briefly lift its warped piano tones and plodding bass line into the kind of echoed, dizzying, off-kilter abstractions Blake is usually too mannered to indulge in, it could well be an outtake from last year’s The Colour In Anything.
If you like James Blake (or King Krule, or Mica Levi, or Andrea Balency, etc.), obviously none of this is a problem. But unlike Cold Spring, which excitingly freed Mount Kimbie from the hermetic seal of forever mining garage beats and ambient haze, Love What Survives mostly just feels like a lateral move. And disappointingly, few of the non-guest tracks make as great an impression. With its tremolo-ed feedback and gnarled, Pornography-era Cure bass, opener “Four Years And One Day” is an exception, getting things off to a thrillingly noisy start that’s later mirrored in “Delta,” which is all frantic synth pulses, train-hiss hi-hats, anxious organ, and forward momentum.
But the loose “Audition” feels every bit the rehearsal-room jam its title suggests; “SP12 Beat” resembles the underscore to some ’80s action caper in South America; and “Poison,” a pretty little ambient loop of cracked piano tones, mostly just comes off as calculated filler. Campos and Maker’s sole solo vocal turn, “T.A.M.E.D” is also a bit of a letdown, their monotone delivery not done any favors by the song’s repetitive refrain of “Think about me every day.”
The result is a record that scans more like a playlist—an expertly curated “Late-Night London” mix linked by general atmosphere and autobiographical connection—rather than an individual work of art. That’s fine: It’s uniformly pleasurable, occasionally stirring listening, and Campos and Maker have excellent taste. But hopefully Mount Kimbie continues pushing to stake out its own sound, whatever anyone wants to call it.