Review: Girl Unit – Club Rez EP

Another one I’m going to have to talk over – No IDs yet, just to say it’s new” interjected Bok Bok on the Night Slugs show during August of last year, to the frustration of eager YouTube-rippers worldwide as he dropped a mysterious new cut. He was smart (and entirely correct) in predicting that speculation would spread like wildfire immediately afterwards. Rip after rip got taken down and rumours swirled as to who this giant track belonged to, but those who were familiar knew that this could very well be the return of Girl Unit, aka Philip Gamble, after nineteen months of near dormancy. With such an aura of intrigue, there hasn’t been much that we’ve looked so forward to in some time.

Our less-than-patient waiting was, however, slightly marred by apprehension. With bated breath we confronted the obvious question: how do you follow a release like “Wut”? It’s safe enough to accept that you pretty much can’t, and then one moves on to wonder quite how much Girl Unit has changed over the span of a little under two years. Will he try to reproduce the sound that made us love him the first time around, or will he try something different? With remixes for Kodiak’s “Spreo Superbus“, Breton’s “RDI“, NGUZNGUZU’s “Mirage” and Lunice’s “I See U” as almost our only points of reference as to his personal progress during this extremely low-key period, we didn’t feel any better equipped to make a call. Luckily, the pressure of prediction was relieved as the Night Slugs camp remained impressively mum on the topic of any forthcoming Girl Unit until what seemed like the very last moment, when only a few weeks before its release, the world was notified of an EP with six incoming brand-spanking-new Girl Unit tracks – one of them being the relic of last summer, “Club Rez”, which also lends its name to the overall release.

Stream: Girl Unit – Ensemble (Club Mix)

The first offering on the EP is “Ensemble (Club Mix)”, previously heard as an absolute highlight on Julio Bashmore’s Radio 1 show. The long intro had us on the edge of our seats until the arrival of an 80s vibed-out dark funky bass that defies description from a non-production standpoint, so the best we can do here is to tell you that it also appears in Girl Unit’s NGUZUNGUZU remix. A little under halfway through the track a light shines through, so high-pitched it could pass as a dolphin (which would be out of place anywhere but here), and it sounds just about as uplifting. “Cake Boss” is the most mechanical and aggressive of the tracks on the EP, a piercing, stuttered pattern of syncopated triplets only joined in turn by other forms of raw percussion not unlike the variety of Girl Unit releases in the past. It sounds more like a DJ tool, at home with the sounds of L-Vis 1990’s recent “Club Constructions” release which also came out on Night Slugs.

With “Plaza” we’re treated to a little more excitement than “Cake Boss,” but Gamble seems to be sticking to the same aural palette. It’s not clear whether this is on purpose in order to make his music more accessible; goodness knows DJs love to play his older material, but it’s not the easiest to casually drop into a set. All six tracks of the EP have the same recognizable tinge to them, but they sound as if they’ve potentially been diluted in order to be strung together by common elements at the expense of the huge dynamic that made each selection on the “IRL” and “Wut” EPs so distinct and memorable despite being fewer in number.

Girl Unit – Double Take

An unexpected highlight comes in the form of “Double Take”, which is one of the easier tracks to classify within a genre while still excelling amongst other tracks like it. What sets it apart from other lazer-pew bubble-popping drip-dropping “bass” tracks of its kind (think: Eprom’s “Regis Chillbin“, RL Grime’s “Treadstone“, Myrryrs’ “Nimh“, Lunice’s “Hip Pop” etcetera) is Gamble’s propensity for creating incredibly thorough and engrossing arrangements using elements that you haven’t heard anywhere else. Where the aforementioned examples are wonderfully minimal, “Double Take” successfully employs certain advantages of that aesthetic while being a thousand times more interesting. One should also take into account the different approach Girl Unit has from the get-go being based in London; the American influences on his previous work were always notable, and this is another place where we see he’s kept his feet firmly planted one on either side of the false chalk line separating geographical music scenes, continuing to smudge them.

By the time “Rezday” rolls around, you’re reeling off the preceding track and forced to slow down. An overall triumphant theme haunts the layers of “Rezday” and while it might be a tad slower than the amount of hype that the EP has been building until this point, the triumph feels more than justified. There are more synths here than we found in the first chunk of the EP and the ongoing tick that reminds us ever so much of AraabMuzik. This is an unforeseen and welcome exploration, leading us into a direction that hopefully will be scouted out more in the future, with less waiting time leading up to it.

Stream: Girl Unit – Club Rez

Somehow, and we don’t know how, Girl Unit has once again harnessed the same tension and rise into euphoria felt in the beginning of “Wut” and employed it in the intro to “Club Rez”. It’s the kind of track that deserves a rewind or ten, and it’s the overwhelming ambush of slightly dissonant synths that, similar to “Wut,” grab you and won’t let go. The comparisons between the two tracks are unnecessary as this is so strong on its own – it’s already been shown to tear up clubs and now that it’s available to everyone it’ll be doing that much more often. We never thought that one of the frontrunners for summer’s biggest anthem would be one riddled with trance motifs, but here we are. It’s another smile-inducing number that taps into a guilty pleasure we didn’t even know we had – Girl Unit has a knack for identifying what gets people going and ends up making music that we can’t hold up to anything else.

We’re delighted to see a release that deviates drastically from today’s standard nods to classic house and techno that are on almost everyone’s agenda. It’s classic Girl Unit in that it’s inimitable and beyond obvious fleeting trends which makes it playable for a long time to come, even if the tracks are individually not each as outstanding as releases past. The obvious outlier here is the title track, but each one has its own moment to shine. The overall package is Girl Unit’s most cohesive release to date, and while it doesn’t pack a hard punch with every single track as he’s managed before, it’s undoubtedly still an excellent release that we’ll be revisiting again, and again, and again.

Girl Unit’s “Club Rez” EP is out today (May 7th) and you can purchase it here.

Cayley MacArthur

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