While I like talking about mainstream music on this blog from time to time, I actually find it more exciting when I get to looking at something that few others know about yet. Some pieces of music that I might never have even heard of were it not for a chance recommendation have resulted in albums and in some cases entire back catalogues of work for me get stuck into with relish. This isn't one of those today though, because drum and bass track "4K" is (I think) the debut single from Estonian singer Lii. It's enough for me to hope that it's only the beginning of a fruitful and exciting career, however.
Lii came to my ears via British singer-songwriter Kirsty Hawkshaw, however I was pretty sure I'd already seen her name and face somewhere, and had to think for a while where that was... Turns out Lii was the stunning actress in the video for "Back in Time", the DnB track by Kirsty and Liquid Kaos I covered last year. Hawkshaw plugged this track on her Facebook page, rather appropriately as she co-wrote and produced the track along with London based producer DoubleA. From the opening chords I knew this was probably up my street, and as soon as the buildup gained pace I found I was correct - "4K" is right in the middle of where atmospheric DnB meets trancestep, a la Seba.
Relying on a thick atmosphere provided by a very warm bassline and low-passed pads, with extra groove and movement thrown in in the form of a subtle mid-range bass throb and supersaw pads, it's the kind of song that envelops you in sound, bringing it closer to the chillout room than the main room but still having enough energy to avoid that soporific effect some liquid dnb can result in. The only thing that I don't like about the music is a slight metallic ringing on the main snare that cuts through the mix fairly easily, which is one of those things that you just can't help noticing once it has caught your ear - but it's nowhere near enough to tarnish the production.
Lii herself has a soft and breathy voice that suits this vibe perfectly, and her contribution to this song is a dreamy but rhythmically appropriate performance, fitting right in with the pads but also adding that little extra movement that the instrumental would lack on its own. The comparison to Hawkshaw's own vocals is hard to avoid drawing - I'm a big fan of Kirsty and have been listening to her for years, so initially I thought it was her on the track! It would be bizarre of me to complain about this though, if Lii wants to approach an epic and atmospheric DnB track from the same angle as a born Trance singer like Kirsty then I'm right behind that plan.
The remix by Bass'Flo and Ziyal takes the concept into half-time, going for atmospheric drumstep. This is an excellent companion to Hawkshaw and DoubleA's original, with not too much separating the interpretations on a sound design level aside from the absence of the pulsing mid-range bass. This mix gets more groove out of its drums, appropriate for the drumstep genre, and it's nice to hear a drumstep track with a trance aesthetic that for once isn't also chock full of irritating wobbles, with the sub-bass alone giving this all the weight it needs. I've been getting into Bass'Flo and Ziyal recently and this is another solid track raising them even higher in my estimation.
"4K" isn't the most distinctive tune ever, lacking much of a melodic hook and relying on its harmonies to carry the listener with it, but it fills its niche so well I don't have any hesitation in recommending it. Fans of acts like Seba and Blu Mar Ten will dig this, especially if you like Hawkshaw's own DnB work with those artists. Lii is hopefully going to be a name to look out in future if there are more songs in this vein up her sleeve, and so is the Wellhead Records label that Kirsty Hawkshaw is launching with the release of this tune. Go and check out the Wellhead Bandcamp page where "4K" is available exclusively until it is released on iTunes on the 4th of July.