Tadd Mullinix, who's best known for the hip-hop he makes as Dabrye and the acid-tinged house and techno under JTC, has added yet another alias to his repertoire, and it might be his most inventive project to date. X-Altera and its debut album, the eponymous X-Altera, were born from a fit of rediscovery. All at once, the Ann Arbor-based producer reconnected with the jungle he produced in the late '90s as half of Soundmurderer & SK-1, revisited the forgotten B-sides of his drum & bass record collection, and fell back in love with the deep, melodic techno of Detroit and London. "What is this going to be pigeonholed as," he wonders. "What are people gonna call this? And what DJs are gonna play this stuff?" Pulling from a number of eras, sounds, and locations, X-Altera may raise questions about its origins and aims, but the music makes perfectly clear that Mullinix had a singular vision.
As the album opens with "Compound Extraprotus," the song's spacious atmosphere and erratic FX seem almost metaphorical at first. It's as if X-Altera's many dangling threads of inspiration are wafting in the ether, waiting to be harnessed and reformed. A skipping, percussive beat anchors the track and readies it for another major piece of the puzzle: massive, dubwise sub-bass. The many movements of "Compound Extraprotus," including the sharp synth stabs that take over halfway through, set a classic yet avant-garde tone that X-Altera toys with endlessly. Hear it in the splintered permutations of electro-bass rave-up "Pasco Richey Tiger" and funked-out UKG oddity "Shoreline (Can't Understand)." "I'm not trying to do a revival thing," Mullinix clarifies, "but I'm aware that I'm using these different jungle, rave, and sound clash signifiers. It's just part of my vocabulary." The music isn't about rehashing old-school methods and styles—it's about tapping into the feeling of possibility those sounds first invoked.
For all of X-Altera's fresh approaches, the seeds of its music can be found scattered throughout Mullinix's discography. The radiant soundsystem fury of "Check Out The Bass" traces back to Soundmurderer & SK-1's ragga junglism; the freeform IDM of 2000's Winking Makes A Face LP feeds into intergalactic groovers "Parallel Rites (Kepler-452b)" and "Holotyd Neo-Optika"; JTC's robust, melodic dancefloor bombs color nearly every corner of X-Altera. As Mullinix uses his musical past to pay homage to the likes of B12, Kenny Larkin, 4 Hero, and The Black Dog, there's another layer just under the surface. Maybe it's most apparent in "Impossible," with its stuttering kicks, frenetic hi-hats, and doubletime groove: the irrepressible pulse of Chicago footwork. Coming from an omnivorous artist like Mullinix, such connections are par for the course.
There's a natural flow and cohesiveness to X-Altera that can't be overstated, especially for an album that sounds rooted in a number of disparate traditions. And it's a remarkably fresh debut from one of the most vital electronic producers of the last 20 years, who looks to the past to find new ways forward. The deft handling of such contradictions can only be ascribed to Mullinix's experience and clarity of concept. "I want the song structure of this certain style of jungle," he begins, "but the syntax of something that's a lot closer to me geographically. So I'm using tropes from techno and drum & bass at the same time, without relying too much on one or the other." Pigeonholes be damned, X-Altera's openness is both what defines it and what makes it so delightfully difficult to pin down.