Asphalt Layer – “Stasis Field”
The debut long-player from Asphalt Layer (aka Tommy Harrison) comes after a series of well received, self-released EPs in the earlier part of 2015. The album is an impeccably produced and programmed set of ten tracks taking in a huge range of influences including dub, techno, bass, jungle, hip-hop, house and ambient. The sheer scope of the work and the amount of ground it covers is testament to the producers skill and musical knowledge, the tracks flow beautifully together, taking a string of common themes and developing them in different ways, like 10 different viewpoints of a coherent whole. Here are a few of the highlights, but as ever with this type of work, the album begs to be listened to in its entirety, with the lights off and the sound up.
Opener “Minus Three Nine Seven” slowly unravels a lonely, unnerving soundscape like a boiling gas cloud in a distant nebula. Low notes cycle constantly while a strung out bell (with no hammer sound, just the ringing) pans around a little higher. A slow heartbeat is beating, and sounds that can only be described as a stasis field accompany warning messages from a distant planetary explorer. The sounds fade, leaving only the heartbeat. Nothing could set you up better for the rest of the album.
“Mobius Feedback Loop” is one of the many highlights of the release. A long, lazy intro sounds like midnight in an alien storm with crackling, echoing, heavily filtered bursts of static and a lilting, dubbed out alarm in the background. It’s the static noises that provide the interest here – they sound a million miles wide, and mutate and morph each time they sound, never quite regular. Think of the opening scenes of “Blade Runner” and you’re not far off. Clever use of vocal samples (“Do you read me, Hal? What’s the problem?) and understated glassy percussion stabs keep a basic time. This is truly a track to get lost in and you want more of it than the 8 minute runtime.
The next few tracks change things up a little. On “Ghost in the Machine” we start with floating, dubby notes bringing in a lovely 909 style kick and some vocal style stabs – the Detroit influence is clear as a bell here. A beautiful series of bleeps smacking of UK bass/breaks finish this one out. “Ojhdeh” was my favourite of the 2015 EPs and its great to see this grooving junglist number in here – once again emphasising the artists skill, this is a departure from the previous tracks but doesn’t sound one bit out of place, playing its part in the story told by the album. Oh, and those drops near the end…
“Sci-fi street sound” is aptly named, bringing the electro and hip-hop influence to the fore with some deadly beats and popping percussion, and little rave stabs peppering the groove, with it’s scratchy and vocal samples. “Robot Memory” takes some of the signature chord progressions from the album and applies a harder jungle rhythm. A small number of elements well combined is the key here, the standout part being (apart from the shaking beats of course) the scratchy, 2-step percussion. Real thought has gone into that part, it would have been easy to drop a classic pattern on it, but here is something totally unique. Finally “Sturnidae” is a fine example of the sort of epic, operatic techno that acts such as Lakker and Oscar Mulero have put out this year, perfectly placed near the end of the track.
The LP “Stasis Field” is available now directly from the Asphalt Layer bandcamp page, in addition to the 2015 series of EPs which have some fantastic remixes to explore. This album has some fantastic floor-orientated tunes if that’s your thing, but there is a story being told here, of other worldly sounds, exploration of the mind, and the album really needs to be approached in this mindset.
This type of confident and assured release is rarely seen on a debut album, and you can be sure it won’t be the last you hear from Asphalt Layer. He is most definitely one to watch. We caught up with the man himself to find out more:
Congratulations on your first long player! Tell us a little about some of the inspirations for the sounds?
The main influence has to be science fiction and that artistic mind that creates futuristic environments within that genre of sci-fi cinema. I also take great inspiration from the natural sounds of the Earth and other atmospheres. The wind, the rain, even just standing on the train station and hearing engines and people talking gets my mind thinking. I’m constantly recording sounds and environments to play with. Artists that have inspired me tend to be older heads like Goldie and DJ Krush. These guys made music that was true to themselves. There’s not one beat or bar that is intended to please anyone else.
There is a huge variety in this album and your musical knowledge is very evident. Has music always been a big part of your life?
Music has always been there. There’s not a day that has passed since I was about 10 that I’ve not listened to music. As styles grow, change and move with the times, what was good at a particular point always stays in my mind. I think I’ve never been interested in trends and what is popular. I can pick something up, listen to it and the only thing that concerns me is “Do I like it?”. It’s important to take inspiration from as many sources as possible. I remember thinking once that I didn’t own any trumpet music, so I went out and bought a stack of Dizzy Gillespie records.
Did you make conscious decisions about how you wanted some/any of the tracks to sound, or did they evolve from jamming and experimentation?
Categorically it was all about jamming and experimentation. Its been a real journey over the 3 years as the music in the album has established itself. At first, I was experimenting with sounds, noises, field recordings. I wanted to make sounds that became different environments in our minds as we closed our eyes and listened. But environments that didn’t exist, stuff from other worlds and from things yet to be created. As I developed various skills, I began adding beats, basslines, percussion and other tricks that I had amassed. All through experimentation. For the 10 tracks on the album, there are a 100 other rough drafts that exist.
I know you are a family man with a full time job. How on earth did you manage to pour so much time and skill into this project?!
Simply put, a lot of late nights. I can only really get in the studio after 9pm each night. But because this project wasn’t forced or to a deadline, everything happened organically.
Any plans to take this sound on the road and perform live?
No plans to do this at the moment. There are a lot of financial constraints on this and if and when I was to do so, I wouldn’t want to cut any corners. There are various edits and remixes I utilise while DJing, I’m having enough fun with those for now.
You’re the man behind the well respected Duskdubs weekly mixtape and club nights. Did you find the music coming in from the selectors was influencing your sounds as you went on?
To be involved with a project that received 20+ records every week, in every genre imaginable, from across the globe does wonders for the imagination. This has been standard for over 2 years now. One week we receive grimey sounds from inner city London, the next we might be listening to 80’s inspired electronic sounds that has been sent from LA. I wouldn’t say this music has influenced my sounds, I would say that it has inspired me to be myself and understand that there is something for everyone. So no matter what I make, I do it for me. There will be someone, somewhere that gets goosebumps from it.
Buy “Stasis Field” and the Asphalt Layer EPs from https://asphalt-layer.bandcamp.com
Written by Stringer