As a general rule, electronic producers tend to have recognisable, consistent elements to their work, with even the most innovative, restless producers often returning to certain motifs, drum sounds or rhythmic patterns. Cork-born, Dublin-based producer Bantum is a slippery character, however – over the course of four EPs in the last few years, his sound and style has fluctuated pretty emphatically. If you took a cross section of his work – say: the bouncy electro of ‘Weak Weak Week’, the chopped-up, kaleidoscopic ‘Lay Lay’ and his shimmering remix of Come On Live Long’s ‘Elephants and Time’ – and played it to someone blind, they’d be hard-pressed to recognise it all as the work of one producer.
That’s not to say Bantum rips up the rulebook every time he knocks out a tune, though: on an individual basis, the EPs he’s released sound coherent and of-a-piece; it’s just their relation to each other that tends to wrong-foot you. For his first full-length album, however, there’s a much clearer line of progression than before. His increasing utilisation of vocals continues, for example – except now they’re providing clear hooks and melodies as opposed to the more rhythmic way they were used on the Lay Lay EP. Musically meanwhile, Legion has much in common with his previous work with Owensie (specifically his remix of the singer-songwriter’s ‘Dark Place’ and their collaborative track ‘New String’): that same mixture of organic and electronic textures with treated guitar sounds seems to inform large stretches of the album. The earthy, folk-tinged, atmospheric approach is a step-back from Bantum’s more uptempo, dancefloor-friendly productions on EP2 and Slide; it’s also strongly reminiscent of the work of fellow producer Tenaka, indicating perhaps that the recent Lightbox tour the duo organised led to some exchanging of ideas and influence.
‘No More’ is a curiously pallid opener, its sparse and slightly dystopian-sounding backdrop framing a similarly aloof vocal from Logikparty’s Benni Johnston. Flamenco guitar flourishes towards the end add a dash of colour, but the track feels like it’s building towards something that never comes. ‘Roll Pt. II’ has guest turns from the aforementioned Owensie and Eimear O’ Donovan, and is easily the most traditionally song-based structure that Bantum’s put his name to yet. It’s not until ‘Oh My Days’ that the album really kicks into gear, though: a melancholic, twilit mid-tempo number with a superb vocal from O’ Donovan, it’s followed by the dream-like title track, wherein Margie Lewis’ hypnotic tones circle around an airy, guitar-flecked arrangement. Elsewhere, the galloping ‘Send Me Under’ features another contribution from Johnston – whose buoyant, weightless vocal hook is a bit of a curveball for anyone familiar with her own band’s post-punk-leaning material – while Lewis provides an airy, wordless assist on the swooning ‘Fedora’.
As is evident from all this, Bantum places a lot of emphasis on his guest vocalists, but there’s a feeling that in amidst all the collaboration the music itself can seem lacking a strong, distinctive identity at times. While previous releases were pulsing, punchy and wired with kinetic energy, Legion frequently opts for atmospheric, relatively placid electronica – the impact of which can be dulled by its sheer sidechain-riddled ubiquity these days. That’s not to say that tracks like ‘Fedora’ and ‘Oh My Days’ aren’t impressive and accomplished, but the approach is less successful on numbers such as ‘Frenzy’ or ‘Pretty Words’ – both pleasant enough but forgettable.
Had this been another EP featuring the four or five strongest tracks, it would be easy to make the case for Legion as the latest showcase of Bantum’s multifaceted talents; as it is, the longer running-time magnifies its limitations, while reinforcing the suspicion that this is something of a sideways step, a slight loss of momentum. By far the strongest track on offer – and one of the best of 2012 to these ears – is ‘Dice’: an endlessly replayable number that mixes the maximalist tendencies of Rustie et al with a sublime low-end groove. It’s also one of the few tracks where the Corkman halts the conveyor belt of guests and pushes his production to the forefront. If it’s proven to be something of a red herring in the context of this album, it should also serve as a reminder that’s there’s plenty of avenues and possibilities for Bantum yet to explore.