I didn't think I'd be starting off this batch of (late arriving) CDs with this particular title, but the blatancy of the project name and album title compelled me to. Frankly, I was expecting something completely different- harsh, blasting, or totally obnoxious. This is anything but that. Hit By A Rock is the project of London U.K. producer, remixer and soundtrack composer Jim Whelan. Not being familiar with Whelan's other work, I can't comment on it, but even though this is the first release under the HBAR moniker, you can tell he's no rank amatuer. Far from it.
To put it in a nutshell, 'Wounded' is atmospheric dub-dubby dubstep, and often dark at that. Cool, well...mostly. In a way, I am reminded of some of the best work of Massive Attack, although this album doesn't quite have the substance of 'Mezzanine'. It does have a fair portion of the atmospherics though. The album opens with 'Black Lily White Lotus' and is aided by the vocal talents of acclaimed British Tamil singer Susheela Raman, who has about five albums of her own. Raman's voice lends an exotic, Indian flavor to the track pulling you in. It's a great way to start this outing; brooding, mysterious, yet seductive. 'Seven Stones' features (manipulated) vocals by Zayna Daze (another Londoner), and while not as compelling as the opener, still adds a bit of depth.
Title track 'Wounded' is another matter though. The mood breaks, out comes a piano and vocoder with autotune that makes the vocal track sound like Donald, or maybe Daisy Duck. The sappy commercial melody is a real buzz-kill. I could just imagine the Disney's sailor-suited fowl warbling 'I've been hurt before...and now I'm wounded, wounded...' Okay so this didn't work, press the skip button.
'Silkworm' gets back in the groove again with Susheela on vocals, singing in English this time. Sort of reminiscent of Delerim melodically. Nice! Another highlight is 'Surgery,' featuring poet/spoken word artist Raymond Antrobus. He's a bit loony but it works well withing the context of the music; urban yet somewhat urbane.
I have to hand it to Whelan, he knows his way around sounds. It's a rich pastiche he presents here; nothing you haven't heard before, just maybe not in this way. Hope your sound system is up to the task though as the low end is really going to give that subwoofer a workout. 'East of the River' features the voice of Zewditu Johannes woven into its fabric adding more exotica. 'Closing' is a vocoded exercise in hypnosis, and perhaps an effective one under the right circumstances. The rest of the album is pretty decent but nothing that knocked my socks off.
In total, 'Wounded' is a good debut, and with only one real misstep, worthy of adding to your collection. I'm curious to see where Whelan will take HBAR from here. I'd like to hear something with more song-substance (I'm sure he's capable of it) that still retains the dark and delicious flavor he's presented throughout most of this album.