Around the end of last year at a SWIM party in Cape Town, I was introduced to the sounds that I now know as the extraordinary debut The Let Down Part.
Offering a fresh perspective on progressive hip-hop and electronica, Damascvs’ (Luca Stefano) debut was a distinctive statement of intent. Since then there have been the odd single and EP releases but A View/Her Dove is the first fully-fledged LP follow up.
Damascvs’ philosophy embodies a sense of radical egalitarianism. Looking at his spectrum of influences – encompassing the likes of Brainfeeder and Dirty Paraffin – one gets the feeling that there is no hierarchy amongst both the influences and his position in relation to his influences. It’s debatable how one ought to interpret this: is it a presumptuous bit of bravado or merely an attempt to claim that no one influence is more significant than another? It’s open to interpretation. If you were to charitably assume the latter, it could be perceived as his way of separating his sound from imitation, providing a fresh platform from which he can attempt to articulate his experiences precisely and authentically without fear of sounding derivative. Yet, it’s difficult to escape this ambivalence throughout the album.
Opener ‘Die Cape Town Die’ is a Snake-charming four minutes that reaches a sustained climax within the first minute, what feels like a Moroccan Touareg riding in along a pink Cadillac pumping old-school 90s West coast hip-hop.
From there on we’re teased with the interlude, the aptly named ‘A Taste’, a duo of lethargic slow burning beat patterns (‘Come Home // Come Down (All I Wanna Do)’ and ‘Thuja’ respectively) and the sidereal acid odyssey that is ‘Thorough Bred (Trepidation Luxury)’. The track is rainbow-synth-heavy and dense, offering a maximalist vantage point – in title and sound – reminiscent of Ben Kahn.
‘Rise and Climb Colour Scheme’ features a charming collaboration with The Great Apes frontman, Yusif Sayigh. This collaboration offers a substantial human element to the track, making it an initial best track contender. Further on the album too, it appears that the tracks where Damascvs has collaborated have
an added element of sincerity that at other places in the album is either non-existent or hard to discover. Sadly, it has an alienating effect, isolating the listener, leaving one in the shadow of an abstract artistic articulation with no way to extract some form of attachment.
For instance, such a moment can be encountered on the admittedly intimidating, dark and jarring opening moments on ‘Sex Pattern (Astral Casino)’, present in the distorted sample repeating “I wanna see your ass” for the first quarter of the track. But, to give in to the initial discomfort of the track though would be an opportunity missed: the eventual juxtaposition of the sample with a light synth flourish reveals the track’s dense layered nature and exposes Damascvs’ idiosyncratic and conscious intellectual process.
‘Jealous’, ‘Foolish Boy’ and ‘Sunlight // Stargate Ascension Outro’ are indicative of the power of collaboration, while ‘Tom Delancy’ is the exception to my alleged theory. ‘Tom Delancy’ is fractured and wonderful – comprising of a one-minute introduction of light samples dripping onto an aural canvas that then proceeds to pause briefly to allow a warm synth to form a warm undercurrent for a vocal sample to hover above. The sample’s lyrics are barely discernable, chopped and screwed into a unique instrument in itself, but at one point appear to say “Try, it’s all good”.
‘Jealous’ is a bona fide single. The way Ross Dorkin’s (Beatenberg) bass groove is encompassed in the rest of the track provides a light-hearted contented moment that is Damascvs at his most relatable. ‘Sunlight // Stargate Ascension Outro’ features producer, friend and collaborator, Mr Outrageous and is a steady busy progression that eventually breaks down into a beat not too dissimilar to Flying Lotus’ ‘Putty Boy Strut’. The track is the album’s last song, as the last track ‘300 Steps’ feels like the last remnants of an idea that could have been expanded on –the beat never gets going because as it is about to, it begins to slowly solidify and peter out.
In a recent conversation, Damascvs described A View/Her Dove as ending up, unintentionally so, as an abstract means of depicting “beauty and violence and human patterns and ritual.” This is where my ambivalence lies: as an abstract representation of such human things they are quite hard to relate to. The tracks are at times so personal that it’s hard to relate to the protracted explorations. Which is a shame because instead of breaking down barriers and facilitating interrogation, the music can at times do the opposite – presenting a dense barrier steeped in pretence. It is perhaps best suited to a personal meditation – great when it works, but, when it doesn’t, little more than an isolated and frustrating experience.