The rapid metamorphosis of 96 Back from club-geared dance producer to risk- taking experimentalist has been thrilling to witness. Manchester-based artist Evan Majumdar-Swift grew up in Sheffield, the son of Matt Swift, who was one of the promoters behind the city’s famous Jive Turkey club-night — but he gravitated to weirder sounds, favouring post-punk, math-rock and the offbeat electronics of Actress instead of typical house beats. When he did start to make and release his own tunes, they appeared on the CPU label: 2018’s ‘Provisional Electronics’ EP was full of danceable and distinctive electro tracks that announced a major new talent.
The ‘Excitable, Girl’ album for the same label was weirder, his chrysalis stage, with elegiac piano pieces like ‘Vennsate (Reprise)’. Collections for Hypercolour and Happy Skull followed, but what probably no one expected was what he did next: last year’s self-released ‘ADRISM’ found him showing his weirdest, most emotionally raw side. It was full of strange sound design and off-world melodies, something he’s further explored on his releases for the Local Action label. In particular, the recent ‘Flex Time’ EP found him stepping into new territory, with the chip-tune pigments and grime influences of ‘Coup de grâce’ with Canadian MC Cadence Weapon and the meandering melodies of Iceboy Violet collabo ‘Y I’m Here’ sitting next to the melancholy electronics of ‘Note To Self’.
‘Love Letters, Nine Through Six’ is the most complete realisation of 96 Back’s new sound: a dazzling meld of the avant- garde and pop, oddball synth music and influences from the edges of the dancefloor. ‘Felzin’ has delicate riffs that recall the gently moving qualities and style of a Legend Of Zelda soundtrack, before morphing into a morass of warping arpeggios. ‘9 To Find 6’ is spine-tingling, with its digital sheen, intricate melodies and sped up voices; a bittersweet gem in which you can hear the essence of PC Music, Rustie, trap and IDM merged together.
‘Gull Sad’ is a wintry and menacing lament with tinkling keys that form like icicles over the track, while ‘Wisp’ adds a propulsive techno beat to its mystic cascades of synth. ‘Don’t Die’ featuring Joe Paisan is full of brightly hued riffs with a super slick sheen culled from R&B, and drums that hint at Jersey Club. ‘Love Compact / Vibrant Colours Reprise’ is a thumping hip-hop piece with creaking samples, opening out into those quickly darting melody lines and glowering basslines that have become a 96 Back signature.
‘I Don’t Want To Play Tonight’ has a full vocal in French from CPU artist Tryphème, and could be the greatest tune here, her voice altered by digital effects and placed amid sinister pads and flourishes of filigree synth work. Then there’s ‘Melt You’, another collaboration with Iceboy Violet, where post- rock guitars and found sounds give way to the Manchester MC and producer’s heavily treated and distorted vocals. It’s a fitting end to an astonishing record.
‘Love Letters, Nine Through Six’ feels like it couldn’t have been made at any time other than now, and proves beyond doubt that 96 Back is among the most adventurous electronic artists in the UK today.