It was never taken for granted that this album would be released.
Having been working together since 2004 (after DJing under several other names prior to then), Dave Whelan and Mike Di Scala released a string of singles before settling on the name CamelPhat in 2010.
The duo continued to release tracks on an as-and-when basis until their breakthrough hit Cola in 2017. Ever since, they have followed a career path broadly trailblazed by Disclosure, which will culminate in large shows in Glasgow, London and their native Liverpool next year (fingers crossed).
It’s a darker, more minimalist sound than has become CamelPhat’s signature, brought into sharp focus across the twenty-one tracks chosen to make up their debut album. Unfortunately, as an approach its limitations are laid bare when spread so thin: for every bona fide classic, there’s an inferior companion piece.
What’s most striking about Dark Matter is the sense that Whelan and Di Scala have an exact idea of the mood they are trying to create – possibly unique within their genre. The album is designed to be a coherent piece and succeeds with aplomb, the mood in question being one of unease. Of the many vocalists brought in, all convey a sense of aloofness and almost defeatism; on Be Someone, Jake Bugg’s solemn tones work well against the anxious electronica of the track, while on Spektrum the echo effect put onto Ali Love’s vocals conveys the disquiet expressed within the music. It’s not an exact science; on Panic Room, Au/Ra appears fragile and cautious but the song is a full on rave anthem of days gone by.
Leo Stannard opens proceedings on Blackbirds, which simmers rather than explodes. As an opener it’s a curious but effective choice, threatening to explode yet failing to do so. More brooding than bombastic, it’s a technique that’s used several times (and understandably so, as the duo are more sophisticated than simply dropping banger after banger), but at points it can be frustrating. Hypercolour, featuring Yannis Philippakis, pulses along and progresses. Waiting bristles, all Terminator synths and fizzing percussion for several minutes, and the operatic Carry Me Away sweeps all within its path in majestic fashion.
Not that the album is short of ‘bangers’. For A Feeling has the arms in the air feeling of trance music that is so missed, with sticky percussion and a yearning vocal from RHODES which perfectly matches the song. The Florence Welch co-written Easier kicks in early and sustains the tempo well, the rattling Dance With My Ghost is also a highlight, as is the other-worldly Rabbit Hole, while the synth symphony that is Witching Hour recalls Leftfield in its beneath the surface beat.
Best of all is Phantoms, with 1990s keys made to sound like strings, it’s a vocal-less track but recalls imperial period Pet Shop Boys, specifically their opus Behaviour. (Well, best apart from their masterpiece Cola, included here, and which somehow manages to access a brain frequency hitherto unreached.)
With an established career behind them prior to this debut, CamelPhat have surely earned the right to be self-indulgent, and at 90-minutes Dark Matter is not for the faint-hearted. Ultimately, it’s a device to sustain interest in this barren year and increase expectations for when they can perform again.
Designed to be heard live, the highs are nocturnally euphoric and sit alongside the very best dance music of any era, and therefore should enhance the duo’s career.
Just be judicious with your skip button.