Topdown Dialectic – S/T 2013
Topdown Dialectic – S/T 2013
Label: Peak Oil – PEAK15
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album, Limited Edition, Reissue
Released: Dec 2, 2022
Style: Ambient, Experimental
In an age of oversharing, we’re accustomed to getting up close and personal with artists. From flowery press releases, social media hype and the interview/PR cycle, the act of listening to a record can feel secondary to the narrative crafted by artists and labels. The anonymity surrounding Topdown Dialectic feels like a calculated sleight of hand yet a breath of fresh air. Listeners get a few adjectives – “murky,” “hazy,” and “cavernous” – to hook them in, but gone are the album titles, track titles, or any glimpse behind the curtain of this project.
Topdown Dialectic hook listeners in with an ethereal take on ambient dub techno. Imagine the decayed sound waves of a Basic Channel rave echoing through an abandoned warehouse, lingering in the air, and you’ve got a good visual approximation for what Topdown gets at with their sound. Across a trio of LPs and limited cassette runs, Topdown Dialectic never veer too far from that atmosphere. The range is limited between slow-burn dub techno and fractured, soporific ambient, but the results are always stellar. There’s a reason why every release of theirs sells out fast.
Last year Peak Oil, who have previously issued three LP’s from Topdown Dialectic, unveiled a vinyl pressing of the their 2013 self-titled debut album, originally released via the defunct American imprint Tailings. ‘S/T 2013‘ is the very first time these tracks have been made available on digital and vinyl formats, and it sounds just as fresh, mysterious, and hypnotic as it did 10 years ago.
“A2” starts off with a bang, tricking you into thinking the project might throw out a full on club track; instead, that fade out reverts back to a skittering beat that unfurls and contorts across a sprawling seven minutes. The album’s highest point, “A4,” conjures the most club-friendly aesthetic, if only in the loosest sense – offering less of a peak time vibe in favour of a somnambulant dancefloor shuffle. With a sinister rhythm and mesmerising pulse, “A4” has the effect of pulling you in and, with its insistent, repetitive style, leaves you unsure of whether a few minutes or hours have passed.
A showcase for the other side of Topdown’s sound is on the album’s flip-side. Fragmented downtempo soundscapes take the place of the comparatively rhythmic first half. “B2” heads underground with its spectral mood and splintered vocals sampled from the abyss. It contains a slight rhythm, but never veers too far from crackling dub ambient. That vibe extends to the rest of the record, as “B3” hints at even more otherworldly samples, whilst “B4” ventures deep into static-hued rhythms that feel like the sound is decaying while you listen.
The anonymity of Topdown Dialectic allows listeners to forge their own experience and emotional connection to the music. The greyscale colour palette of the album artwork gives no hint to the sounds contained within the record, inviting you to hit play and go along for the ride. Once the sonic world opens up, the chopped dub timbres act as experimental comedown tunes that transfer you to a different, more altered headspace than the typical after party chill-out sounds.
‘S/T 2013‘ highlights the project’s staggering consistency, as this introduction arrived fully formed and set a template carried on by subsequent releases through 2021. This reissue offers an introduction to new listeners, as well as a reminder to fans of how Topdown Dialectic expertly get the most mileage from a specific range of sounds.
Review by Jason Cabaniss