I dunno, once in a while a producer comes along who just has it. That edge. Not flash, not tricksy – the opposite of that, in fact, powerfully understated. A killer instinct. And a sound. It’s not about originality so much as identity: the talent and the conviction to (sorry) do you. Digest your influences, properly digest them, and then give us your take. It's as much about what you leave out as what you put in - and that sort of laser focus and economy is all the more striking and unusual in this decade's climate of post-everything disarray.
Pessimist has it. Though a newish name to most, he's been releasing music since around 2007, and as one third of Ruffhouse - with Nick ‘Vega’ Callaghan (now UVB-76 boss) and Tom Cooper – he was behind a run of 2012-16 12”s that re-wrote the drum 'n bass rulebook from the margins, fashioning a new breed of dungeon stepper informed by cutting-edge techno and droning, industrial sound design. Fresh hope for dnb after years of dreary post-Autonomic half-step, gormless golden-era pastiche, and the rest - although of course the dnb establishment wasn't listening, or if it was, certainly wasn't willing to adapt. So this offshoot scene burrowed back underground, where it's continued to mature, evolve and, more recently, sub-divide.
Which brings us to Pessimist. Having kept up his solo work in parallel to Ruffhouse, it suddenly came sharply into focus (respect to Rhythmic Theory for tipping us to it): an instantly recognisable style that shifts between the kind of shark-eyed minimal rollage showcased on his Paean EP for UVB-76 and his ‘Balaklava’ 12” for A14, and the thunderous end-of-days techno heard on this year's Pagans EP for Osiris Music. Of course it revels in the space between those poles, and so there's some affinity with the the twin-tempo wizardry of Felix K and the admirable nearly-but-not-quite experiments of the Grey Area crew, but there’s a particular leanness and menace – a suppressed violence, a subtle bolshiness – and a swerve to Pessimist’s tracks which feels pungently and vitally British, plugged into a damp, dismal psychogeography we all instinctively know and understand. Music for the rained-on and reined-in.
As I say, sonically it's not a clean break with tradition: it wears its roots in breakbeat culture proudly, and believes absolutely in the enduring power of bowel-loosening reggae (sub)basslines. In other words it's acutely junglist. In that respect, coupled with its reliance on strung-out malevolent drones - it's nothing if not the offspring of Source Direct. Meanwhile the drums – especially on ‘Peter Hitchens’ - are pure British Murder Boys. Genuinely, SD and BMB really are your two most useful map references for locating where Pessimist is at right now. Yeah. Exactly.
You’ll have likely heard a few people describe this self-titled 2LP as a “proper album” – and yes, it is that. It’s not about variety for the sake of it, it's about narrative, pacing, control. Each track emerges from a dank, dubby, smoke-choked ambience which feels very Pole, very T++, but also – and shoot me down if this is a leap – very Maxinquaye. In fact this record really seems to me to have a lot in common with trip-hop's most paranoid and alienated missives. In terms of Bristol lineage, you’d have to say it links more to that world than to the Full Cycle thing, although a track like 'Spirals' does share something in common with the cold, parts-stripped futurism of peak Krust.
I'm veering off topic here. And all this context has no purpose really, because this is an album that speaks perfectly plainly and persuasively for itself. One listen is enough to know it's a work of rare distinction and sustained intensity, truly one of the most accomplished and absorbing debut albums to come out of underground dance music in, what, years. It's proper. And it's about time.