Xompulse, the first album from Dublin producer Sal Dulu, attempts to bottle the eerie tranquillity of the urban night in ten tracks. Dalu has talked about working in the nocturnal hours, and feeling his creativity strengthened by sleep deprivation. With this free-flowing release, he has also managed to tap into a wider feeling that everyday life is beginning to resemble the night-time haze. Recent events have accelerated the spread of home working, and the blurring of the bedroom and the office leaves little room for real life to break the somnambulism.
Dulu envisioned Xompulse as an approximation of the dreamworld. He accomplishes this by mixing ambient, hip hop, jazz and electronic pop in a warm bath of vinyl crackle and pleasingly pitchshifted vocal samples. Opening track ‘Ariel Visions’ sets the template with its saxophone and strings, setting itself apart with a restrained orchestral grandeur that gives way to a more subdued atmosphere. Styles are crossed from song to song, with Dulu freely choosing to use whatever sound works best for the mood he is attempting to create, whether it comes from a lone synthesizer or his own instrumental work. His musical journey from Hendrix and Frusicante-influenced guitarist to Wu Tang-inspired hip hop is evident here.
Anyone who has looked at their YouTube recommendations in the past few years has probably seen a playlist with a title like ‘Lofi Hip Hop for Working and Studying.’ The vibe is cool and unobtrusive 3am listening, twinkly jazz and gently propulsive beats for those who want to concentrate but can’t stand silence. Xompulse shares a similar mood, but balances the soothing ambience with detailed sound designs that keep the ear constantly surprised. Little moments, like the improvised solo piano on the title track or Dulu’s relaxed guitar licks on ‘Just Like Sonnenalle Blues’, help to paint a bigger picture of a producer working with supreme confidence and architectural ability.
The appearance of guest rappers at three points is a strategic move, designed to break through the haze and provide points of clarity. ‘Zumo’ matches its fidgety backbeat to Fly Anakin’s relentless flow, while the breath-taking ‘B’ showcases Anakin’s Mutant Academy comrade Koncept Jack$on. Their rapping enhances the songs rather than overwhelming them; Jack$on appears after a minute of instrumental mood-building and leaves the song at its midway point.
‘B’ is a demonstration of Dulu’s craft at its best. The backdrop is built from several vocal samples manipulated to create distinct timbres. A celestial vocal is left to hover like mist, accompanied by a voice sliced up and littered across the soundscape, occasionally interrupted by another voice that’s been pitchshifted to a low rumble. This artificial choir is both familiar and uncanny, like the blurred world of the insomniac or interactions with other human beings distorted by delays, room echo and other computer-borne imperfections. In its attention to detail, its comfort and disturbance, ‘B’ is an encapsulation of Xompulse as a whole.
Crafted around urgent rapping from guest staHHr, closing track ‘Buzzcut’ ends the album with the same cinematic majesty with which it started: string-laden bookends to a collection that constantly changes while retaining its cohesion. Dulu has created an album that will appeal to the rapidly converging ranks of home workers and insomniacs, a soundtrack for rooms lit with laptop glow. The atmospherics are the primary draw, but the real triumph is his imagination and instinct for putting sounds where they will be most impactful. Xompulse will find an audience in complete accordance with Sal Dulu’s after-hours vision. There is enough here to sustain them through countless pre-dawn listens. Pádraic Grant