DVA’s Pretty Ugly album feels like a milestone for the Hyperdub label. Together with Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland’s (aka Hype Williams) Black is Beautiful, also out this month, it feels like a consolidation of label boss Kode 9′s vision: that of a family of misfit visionaries pursuing unique visions, unconstrained by genre but united by allegiance to a peculiar set of aesthetic rules.
DVA, also known as Scratcha, has paid his dues in the underground, being well respected as a grime producer before his position as Rinse FM’s breakfast host put him right into the heart of the flowering diversity of grassroots electronic sound in 2000s London. Supporting and absorbing everything from dubstep to R&B, tough techno to nu-jazz, his productions increasingly diverged from any known scene, but bubbled over with melody and invention.
Which brings us to Pretty Ugly. There are three already-released tracks here, but the great news is that “Jus Vybe,” “Madness” and “Polyphonic Dreams” sound brand new in this context: Indeed, every track here, while crisp, fresh and fun on its own, takes on a whole new identity in the context of the album’s flow. Indeed, “Madness,” a weird, wobbly, electronic waltz featuring the sultry croon of Philly smoothie Vikter Duplaix, sounded a bit far out as a single, but makes sense as a bridge between the dubbed-out acid house of “Bare Fuzz” and the even odder, spikier waltz-time of “Firefly.”
There are vocalists galore here — the kooky cabaret styling of newcomer Cornelia on the title track, the more conventional R&B purr of AL on “Why Do U” — but rather than the standard features added to an electronic album to increase accessibility, they feel like characters in a psychedelic fairytale. In fact, the whole album has that Alice in Wonderland feel: From the weird noise that makes up the whole first minute of “Reach the Sun” to the birdsong that accompanies AL’s vocals, it’s a counter-intuitive cavalcade of weird vignettes. Nothing is what it seems, and every listen reveals something new.