As one of the defining acts of post-dubstep, Mount Kimbie have always been more interested in post than dubstep. On first EPs, they replaced the pressure of sub-bass with hissing organs, broken music boxes and the clank of tilted pinball machines, and in the 13 years since, the sound of the British duo has remained a moving target. First, on the 2010s Scammers and loversthey folded into feathery guitar and little R&B flourishes, channeling a rhythmic tradition dating back to Mo Wax and Councils of Canada. With the years 2013 Cold Spring Foul Less Youthful, they further cast aside the overt club aesthetic, fleshing out moody thumbnails with slowcore guitar and mumbled vocals. They abruptly feigned 80s post-punk with 2017s love what survivesworking again with King Kruleby Archy Marshall, with James Blake and Mica Levi, and allowing the British singer’s gloopy, springy tenor to shape the bruised outline of his own synths and guitars. But now on Cutting MK 3.5 / Town planning, the path does not just twist; it bifurcates.
Although it’s technically album number four, the title suggests that MK 3.5 may represent a palliative measure or a detour. It’s basically Mount Kimbie’s Speakerboxxx/Love From Below, in that each of the duo members is given one record each to perform for free. Dom Maker, who moved to California about five years ago and quickly began racking up sessions with artists like JAY Z and Travis Scott, delivers a record steeped in R&B and hip-hop and inspired by the collaborative spirit of LA. Kai Campos, who stayed in London, turns his back on the usual Mount Kimbie fusion and immerses himself in lo-fi techno purism. Although they share a common focus on humor, it’s striking how wide the gap between the two men’s interests is.
Manufacturer’s disc, subtitled Cutouts, is the more extroverted of the two by a considerable margin. Assembled from musical samples, bits of film dialogue, and recorded sessions with friends and peers like Sampha and Timothy Duval, it unfolds as a single interconnected sequel. The dominant aesthetic descends from neo-soul and derivatives of Dilla-esque boom bap, filtered through the molten sound design of contemporary bass music. No sound reaches us directly: the drum machines are muffled by cheesecloth, the keys are reversed and transplanted, the parasitic voices are accelerated or slowed down. Foreground and background are interchangeable; everything feels smeared in a suggestive haze.