Ross From Friends is in a state of evolution on the new album, ‘Tread’
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  • Post published:09/11/2021
  • Post last modified:09/11/2021

Image: Brainfeeder

There’s a paradox that exists within electronic music that has become more apparent in recent years. While the form exists as a result of our innate instinct to experiment, and by proxy innovate, what began as us literally playing with technology has shifted to technology playing us. The further we sought to innovate, and the more we learned to program sounds that were otherwise happy happenstances, the further away we moved from the fluid nature of “playing” music. So we arrived at this point, where making music is as simple as dragging a series of loops onto a toolbar and pressing play. It’s a conundrum that British producer Felix Clary Weatherall, better known as Ross From Friends, has been fixated on resolving. Then again, he has always had an affinity for DIY, arriving as an essential player in the bedroom producer pantheon of the lo-fi house sub-genre. Dissatisfied with the ‘stop and start’ approach imposed by software like Ableton, where producers would have to save their work progressively, Weatherall decided to develop his own software that would allow for extended moments of play and improvisation. Essentially, he developed the means for an electronic jam session. Dubbed Thresho_, the software begins recording only when the audio has reached a “user-defined threshold,” thus automatically archiving and time stamping the work and freeing the artist to play in the process. His latest album for Brainfeeder, Tread, is very much a product of this invention. The album is a collection of familiar styles and patterns, but executed with a slippery sort of fluidity that pushes the repetitive structure of forms like jungle and garage toward something more elliptical and unpredictable. 

There’s an almost jazz-like quality in the way his music bends into shape on Tread, articulated through phrases and passages that never quite settle but exist in dynamic conversation with each other. Spatter/Splatter takes its cue from its onomatopoeic namesake, shifting faces and rhythms every few bars, from field recordings of city streets to contemplative tablas, to scratchy breakbeats, and a looped choral chant. Ideas arise and evolve in tandem, sounds are explored then shift toward something new as another concept is introduced. It’s a breathtaking evolution from the static-washed four on the floors of You’ll Understand, and something that was hinted at on the richly textured Family Portrait. With Tread, Ross From Friends shifts his location to the paradigm of sound design in the ilk of Burial and Boards of Canada, the music washed in analogous moods of nostalgia and hazy broodiness. Sometimes, the style is precise to a fault. XXX Olympiad sees Weatherall put on his best Burial accent, a warping and melancholic garage track that feels distinctly referential to the latter’s work. Grub pairs a skeletal breakbeat with moody chords and indistinct vox formulations before slipping into a lo-fi piano passage and Orbison style clips of voices in conversation. Morning Sun In A Dusty Room plunges straight into this sort of evocative soundscaping, with a thrumming modulated synth floating atop an ambient collage of thunder, birdsong and footsteps on a gravel pathway. Tread is best when Weatherall is referencing, or rather subverting, himself. Revellers finds the sweet spot between his earlier house identity and newfound evocativeness, while album closer Thresho_1.0 (considered alongside its thirty second bookend, Tresho_1.1) is both the album’s thesis statement and masterstroke. 

Across Tread, it’s clear that Ross From Friends has set out to innovate. The album occupies a new space for the producer, not quite online as are his origins nor on the dancefloor, but somewhere between. It’s an album informed by the feeling of the moments before daybreak or the reflective ritual of watching the sunset; a shift toward the more emotive, abstractly rich possibilities of electronic music that Weatherall has made possible to explore by rejecting modern methodology. As a body of work that captures an artist in an undeniable phase of transformation, Tread becomes the definitive new yardstick for whatever he does next. 

Listen to Spatter/Splatter from Tread below. Download and stream the album here.

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