Kingdom first popped up on my radar when Mind Reader came out on Fool’s Gold in 2010. But it was his That Mystic EP that really caught my ear when it dropped on Night Slugs that same year. Before hearing that record I had never paid much attention to music that could be classified as 2 step, garage or grime. But his singular take, with r+b/crunk vocal samples spilled over intense drum patterns and dark, haunting synths really caught my ear. You might call it pre-Trap. My favorite tracks from that one were That Mystic, Bust Broke and Fogs.
On his new Vertical XL EP, released through his own Fade to Mind label, he vibes out more. While still demonstrating his predilection for unpredictable percussion pops, the overall sound is less pressing, less urgent than what he was making three years ago. Bank Head features Fade to Mind artist Kelela over some chirpy, chopped up vocal samples and everywhere snares. Is this track a busy 70 bpm or a sparse 140 bpm? Is this a song made for chilling out or wildin’ out? Like many of Kingdom’s songs it’s somewheres in the middle yet highly danceable. It’s a complex enough arrangement to hold its own as an instrumental, but the version with vocals from Kelela adds some additional emotion with a whispery style reminiscent of rapper/singer Mystic. Zip Line is like a remix or continuation of the chords and drums from Bank Head with some playful string melodies plucking around, adding some levity to the more melancholy main melody.
As the song title would indicate, Corpse gets back to the darker, spookier side of things. Its like a horror-movie dance song: a little sadistic, a little seductive, with parts that sneak up and others that are more aggressive. Kingdom drops in the occasional six or eight shot burst of kick drums to keep you on your toes, a sort of theme for him on this EP.
OG Master is also dark, but more sci-fi than horror with drums that sound like lasers, force fields and lasers that are hitting force fields. Stab synths and heys punctuate the beat, which is slower and more clearly a dubstep tempo.
Viper Lash starts off at half-tempo with a haunting melody and more of those sci fi-sound effects, one of which reminds me of the voice weapons in David Lynch’s Dune. Once it doubles up it achieves a dancier, happier feel, with electro 80s drums and video game swooshes.
Takedown Notice has a more downtempo, sad r+b vibe and is not really a dance song at all, it must be 60 bpm or something. But it’s cool to chill out to.
Viper XL has a different sound than the rest of the record. It’s fun, upbeat, house and funk-influenced with a more traditional tempo and structure. Even with the retro feel it still has Kingdom’s signature futuristic sound and the record’s signature kick drum bursts towards the end.
Something else: Kingdom is always next level with the art and visual design. He plays with Web 1.0-influenced fonts and animations as seen on his label’s and his own website layouts and on this Clubposite mix for DIS magazine. The Vertical XL cover art is pretty cool, too. Like some sort of dystopian rave war remnants.