Review: Ma Fan - Conrank [Saturate Records]

Originally Posted 10.2.2015 [Archive]

After an extraordinary run with Exhale Therapy, his debut release on Saturate Records, resident badman Conrank is back with Ma Fan. His time between these two releases saw him touring the globe, from America to Europe and then down to Australia, and the selections of songs on Ma Fan feel like a reflection of that journey. With influences of grime, hip hop, and even Chinese folk music, this release comes packed with more diversity and unique ideas than what Exhale Therapy delivered, as well as all the classic speaker shaking bass that Conrank has made a name for himself with. Here are my favorites from the release:

Conrank - Tongues

The opening track on the EP begins with a sole flute delayed into the ether. Soon this ominous sound is joined by more urban noises- Car screeches and honks can be heard whizzing around in the distance with Chinese chit chat filling the familiar city air. Eventually a filtered out vocal lines begins to form, juxtaposed against a pitched percussion rhythm. As a sub rise and hats announce the arrival of a more musical scene and a departure from the serenity of the opening 2 minutes, one last flute bursts out just prior to the drop. Here the percussion rhythm and vocal line are matched up perfectly, creating a lively and gripping pattern. Quick flute interjections and long bursts of percussive fills provide more intriguing variety for the colorful palette of sounds to come alive in. This track showcases Conrank’s production ability exceptionally well. The use of chinese folk music as well as the urban samples of Chinese city life provide a proper introduction to Ma Fan while fitting in perfectly with his signature sound.

Conrank ft. DJ Shadow - Exhale Therapy VIP

*spinback* Come again! Conrank and DJ Shadow are back. After teaming up last year for the title track of Conrank’s Exhale Therapy EP these legends return to up the ante on a varied production of the same song. The original track was easily the focal point of an extremely well rounded and diverse release, with wonky synths and swirling noise highlighting one of the most original productions of the year. This variation takes the original ideas of the track in a punchier direction. Beginning with wonky, delayed synth stabs and warm, spacious pads, the difference in this track is quickly noticed as the powerfully tight kicks and crisp snares fill out a funky new drum pattern. A familiar vocal sample “blow” leads into a minimalistic drop that is constructed piece by piece with plenty of space for each individual drum hit and synth stab to flourish. Weighty bass jabs and reverbed snaps accent the creativity in this slowly moving, yet powerful beat. The swirling noise synth from the original track is repurposed for the second part of the VIP, repeating at a faster pace with perfect timing and ducking from the kicks. The drums become more frequent and filled out in this section as well as rapid hats accelerate the beat forward. This helps the track transition beautifully back to a heavy melodic breakdown filled with the pads of the beginning before the final drops comes in to cement the blunt vibe. My favorite song off Exhale Therapy and my favorite song from Ma Fan as well.

Conrank - Beat The Block

A buzzing, pulsating synth and speedy shakers introduce this track with great energy. The “block” vocals chime in over the top of the beat as metallic cymbals and horns announce a change of direction. All the elements of the track begin to repeat at a higher frequency while more drums are imported to accompany the rising tension. Soon the track reaches a climax; the tension disappears as the vocal samples and synth reenter in full force over a throbbing drumbeat. Percussive fills and bulky snares compliment the constant roar of the buzzing synth here, creating an addicting, heavy rhythm similar to many of Conrank’s bassier tunes. A short melodic string breakdown in the middle of the track dispenses a nice break from the immense density of the drops. A classic tune from the UK to China man.

*Bonus* Conrank ft. Messy MC - Jetlaggin (Bleep Bloop Remix)

I don’t usually include remixes on my writeups, but I have to give Bleep Bloop a special shoutout for this one. The track begins with trippy, reverbed stabs and a slowly developing blap roll before the full Messy MC vocals take the listener to a strange space filled with heavily processed vocals. A pounding kick rhythm signals the introduction of the first drum sound, and the vocals drop incredibly low with gritty layering providing an extremely sub-heavy atmosphere. Soon these vocals are met with a full drum beat and higher pitched vocal layering with detuning, filling out the mix space with modulated vocal synth madness. This song completely diverts away from the feeling of the original track. Overall an outstanding job and incredible work for a remix. Here’s to more musician taking such a creative approach to remixing.

The entire EP is a fantastic listen. With features from DJ Shadow, Messy MC, Go, Stylust Beats, and Mad Zach, and remixes from Bleep Bloop, Starkey, Jonathan Thomas, Mad Zach and Soulspeak there seems to be an endless amount of refreshing ideas and high quality audio. The originals uphold Conrank’s quest for varied song production while maintaining the class that this man has become known for. Ma Fan proves continued success for Conrank and another fantastic release for Saturate!Records. Pick up the whole release as a pay-what-you-want download at the link below!

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