Andrew Field-Pickering’s music as Max D (aka Maxmillion Dunbar) represents a kind of cheerful excess. Bursting with energy and ideas, it’s scrappy in spirit and also execution, cobbled together from a motley array of daisy-chained drum machines and outmoded synths. With rhythms variously modeled on 1980s house, techno, new jack swing, and the sorts of percussive dub mixes that used to come standard on the B-sides of pop and R&B 12″s, it’s rooted in classic dance music without being expressly retro (despite the occasional shakuhachi flute sample that might come sailing out of the murk).
The music’s kinetic overload is rivaled only by its super-saturated tone colors, sticky as squished berries. So what happens when Field-Pickering strips out all the musical bits—the opalescent pads, glassy leads, and squelchy basslines—and narrows his focus to the drums? You get Dolo Percussion, the name he’s used for an occasional series of drum tracks and DJ tools since 2013. The first installment came out as a four-track EP on L.I.E.S.; Dolo 2 followed in 2014 on his own Future Times label, and Dolo 3 popped up last year on The Trilogy Tapes. Dolo 4 gathers all three EPs and rounds them out with four new tracks. Together, they make for a masterful display of Field-Pickering’s rhythmic chops.
No staid boom-tickers or pokey pitter-patterers here. These are bold, burly numbers that move with abandon: swinging, lunging, barreling, lurching. He likes his kicks beefy and his cymbals clanging, and he rides the pitch of individual drum hits like a bush pilot hopped up on pep pills, soaring and plunging with scant regard for weak stomachs. Even without melodies, no two tracks sound remotely alike. That’s thanks in part to his ear for distinctively syncopated grooves that unspool with the propulsive force of a tightly wound spring; it has just as much to do with his textural instincts. In “DOLO 4,” the hi-hats and snares take on the liquid quality of Baka water drumming; the drums in “DOLO 7” seem to be coated with a fine film of ash; in “DOLO 9,” they vibrate like a mouthful of Pop Rocks.
Drum tracks have a rich history in DJ culture; long before Serato and CDJs made it easy for DJs to extend a looped beat for as long as they’d like, dance producers pressed up percussive edits to facilitate long, intricate blends. But Dolo Percussion cuts aren’t mere DJ tools (though a creative DJ could presumably get plenty of dancefloor mileage out of these 16 flights of rhythmic fancy). Some tracks extend to six, seven, even 11 minutes, and they earn every second of their run time, drum patterns morphing like amoeba under an electronic microscope.
The final four tracks, which are exclusive to this release, are the most inventive and varied of the lot. “DOLO 16” suggests dub reggae with all the reverb sopped up by silica packets; “DOLO 15” is slow-motion drum’n’bass suffused in finger cymbals and ring modulator; the quick-stepping “DOLO 13,” all wind chimes and electronic buzz, could almost be mistaken for something off Perlon, the iconic German minimal-techno label. Best of the bunch is “DOLO 14,” a slow, heady funk cut that’s steeped in D.C. go-go (a palpable influence on Field-Pickering’s dynamic sense of swing), and whose disorienting array of hissing cymbals and clacking woodblocks give the impression of surround sound, even on just two speakers. The conventional wisdom might say that drum tracks are an inherently limited form. But rather than exhausting their possibilities, Field-Pickering has clearly become more inspired as he continued the series. As the Slits once sang, “Silence is a rhythm too”: By muting his melodies, Field-Pickering keeps finding new ways to make his beats sing.