The career of Danny “Altered Natives” Yorke has goes back through the years, all the way to the broken beat era of UK dance music and beyond, and he’s managed to penetrate various scenes, he somehow still remains an obscure name consigned to the fringes of the dance scene, despite displaying an impeccable technique as a producer and a mastery of styles that you’d be hard pressed to find in some of the bigger names in left-field dance music. Granted, his classic “Rass Out” track was a dancefloor smasher of considerable note in the ‘UK Funky’ era, but since then his profile has been surprisingly obscurant given such a vocabulary and will to push his own creative boundaries. This year brings about one of his biggest and most ambitious projects yet, a sprawling 20 track LP titled The Black Album, his eighth album under the Altered Natives name and the culmination of years of frustration and hard work.
For those listeners who have not listened to Altered Natives work since the “Rass Out” days and are expecting perhaps more in that vein or even a more soulful, tasteful, mature output; you’re both going to be rewarded, but also possibly thrown for a loop. The majority of The Black Album is not ‘UK Funky’ necessarily but a grooving, skilful blend of house, techno and other influences that manage to reach beyond your basic ‘genre by numbers’ approaches. Tracks like the Ol’ Dirty Bastard sampling “Gravity” feel like they could be just as home in the arsenals of DJs Stingray or Deeon respectively, while the following track “The Never Dying Heart” and its rough yet precise drums can’t seem to decide if it’s meant to suit the uses of industrial techno icons like Regis or a return to darkness by the like of Dego McFarlane. Elsewhere you can make associations to the smoother points of Larry Heard, or the more glitchy and abstract fringes of Dub Organizer-era Cooly G.
But make no mistake, for all the homages you might imply, recognize or reach for, The Black Album is most certainly Yorke’s handiwork. His style is an impressive one based around a particularly strong drum sensibility that refuses to rely on tried and played out repetitive drum patterns, tending for a wild style approach that shifts erratically but almost magically seems to fall into such a rough yet easily danceable groove that never feels as technical or wooly as obsessive listeners might initially presume when trying to pinpoint the rhythm at play. If anything, that might seem to feel to be the hallmark of the album despite all of the experiments with style; that no matter what direction the tracks might pinpoint to, the rhythms seem to never line up into perfect formulas but form a looser, more natural style that quickly stands to form its own sense of timing that feels improbably tight.
One doesn’t simply listen to dance music just to pull it apart of course, it has to get up and move you, and so much of The Black Album feels designed for dancefloors of any possible kind. Need a dark lurching creeper that could easily harken back to the more wilder edges of Funky House but just as easily sound just at home in a gritty Birmingham rave? Try the tension assault of “The Terror” or the clenched-fist dread on “Lucifer”. Maybe you need something to dust up the club and make the crowd stomp along? Look no further than the retro-tinged “Acid Black” or the low swinging “No Hoodpass”. Perhaps looking to sooth the listeners hearts rather than grab them by the ears? Maybe consider the smoothness of tracks such as “Back2bruk (Remember Your Heart)” or “Double Cross” to vibe out to. Anywhere you look on the album, you’re bound to find a track that could suit your every whim and fancy, yet never does the album manage to feel like it’s pushing in every direction for the sake of appeasing too many interests at once. It’s just a strong sense of variety within a cohesive body of work.
The Black Album might not be a dance album that’s going to win over clubs all over the world upon its initial play. But as far as both a potential entry to the work of Altered Natives or as well the latest chapter in an ever evolving musical career, it’s very much a statement to be proud of. It’s a display of intense labor and stylistic composure from a veteran who shows no signs of keeping himself stuck in one lane or another, but evolving into a confidence that demonstrates that at this point in the game, Altered Natives has become a producer that for those in the know, can provide some of the most satisfying tunes available.
Words: Maxwell Cavaseno