Lewis Roberts is clearly a man who places quality over quantity. The 21-year-old Welshman who currently resides in Glasgow and operates musically under the moniker Koreless has only put out two singles of his own to date (“4D” and “Lost In Tokyo”), but each one is held in such high regard by punters and musicians alike that you’d be mistaken for thinking he was a well-established veteran of the electronic scene. “Lost In Tokyo” was released on Montreal producer Jacques Greene’s Vase Records, he’s remixed the likes of Foals and How To Dress Well, and earlier this month he shared the stage at NYC’s Webster Hall with Jon Hopkins and Four Tet. That’s no small feat for someone who’s released enough tracks to finish counting on one hand.
As much of a cliché as it may sound, what sets Koreless apart from the rest of his peers is his music. His previous singles have left critics clambering around for the right term to describe his wholly unique, minimalistic productions, with the general consensus being that it’s “post-dubstep” – presumably on the grounds that sometimes it sounds a bit like Mount Kimbie’s older stuff. Let’s makes one thing clear: Koreless is NOT post-dubstep, and his debut EP Yugen, released on Young Turks Records, speaks for itself.
The first thing that people will pick up on when listening to this is the almost absolute absence of drums throughout. Apart from a distant pitter-patter of percussion on lead single “Sun”, there isn’t a single kick, snare or hi-hat to be heard. Instead, Koreless relies on his finely dissected loops (faintly reminiscent of the way Todd Edwards chops up his vocal samples with a surgeon-like precision) to carry the rhythm over whatever may be bubbling underneath each track. Opener “Ivana” is a prime example of this: the female vocal snippets that come in after about a minute are sped up and down over a bed of pad synths, completely switching up the groove of the track, much in the same way that Zomby alters the speed and pitch of the bubbling synth throughout his track “Natalia’s Song”. Post-dubstep this is most certainly not, instead coming much closer to being categorised under the “electronic soul” tag that Roberts prefers to describe his work.
While some of his Glaswegian counterparts choose to achieve euphoria through infinite layers of hard-hitting drums and instrumentation (Rustie’s 2011 album Glass Swords is now revered as a maximalist masterpiece, while Hudson Mohawke’s singles such as “Thunder Bay” sound like the musical equivalent of putting your face in front of an industrial fan), Koreless can be just as emotionally affecting with the bare minimum at his disposal. “Sun” – without a doubt the highlight of Yugen – consists of little more than some synth chords, a looped sample and some rolling drum pads yet it sounds completely blissful and utterly tragic at the same time; like the perfect alternative soundtrack to the ending of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The soaring string sounds also hint at classical music influences, something that is reinforced at numerous points on the EP – particularly the slow rallentando at the end of “Never”.
The title Yugen refers to the Japanese ideal of “profound grace and subtlety,” and that perfectly describes what this EP is. It matches the emotive qualities conjured up by the likes of Sigur Ros while inarguably rivalling the serene ambience of Brian Eno’s work, and it all comes courtesy of a guy who only finished a university degree in Naval Architecture last summer. Sure, this EP may be limited in terms of variety, but we know from his Short Stories release on Young Turks a few months ago (a collaboration with Sampha, who works frequently SBTRKT) that Koreless is more than capable of moving out of his comfort zone and experimenting with his tried-and-tested musical formula. The thought of what we might get to hear on his next release is already making me salivate.
While the critics go back to square one to try and coin the right term to unfairly pigeonhole Koreless’ music, let’s just accept this EP for what it is: a minor masterpiece in electronic music that proves that restraining yourself musically can be just as important as blowing the listener’s socks off.