By Kat Bein
By Shea Serrano
By S. Pajot
By Terrence McCoy
By Falyn Freyman
By Shea Serrano
By Jacob Katel
By Michael E. Miller
In an age when albums by hip-hop DJs seem to downplay turntablist techniques in favor of a mash-up mix-tape aesthetic, D-Styles takes a bold dive into uncharted waters with his debut album, Phantazmagorea. The former Invisibl Skratch Pikl (and current Beat Junkie) cultivates a dark, esoteric vibe with both his meticulous method of song construction and his twisted choice of sampling material.
Ditching the usual loops and programmed beats, D-Styles crafts his songs by multitracking manipulated drum sounds, basslines, melodic fragments, and vocal snippets, literally building his music from scratch. While this process is a common mode of composition and live performance for turntablist crews, Phantazmagorea marks the first time the approach has been used for an entire album.
This method might sound like a recipe for a masturbatory disaster, but D-Styles shows uncommon restraint. Save for the posse cut "Felonius Funk," featuring DJs Melo-D, Babu, and QBert, and a high-octane duel with QBert on "Clifford's Mustache," D-Styles keeps the scratch soloing to a bare minimum. Instead he focuses his vinyl manipulation on rhythmic counterpoint, song structure, and the introduction of disturbed sound bites.
When the layered tunes work, as on "The Murder Faktory" and "Terror in Dub," the combination of digital dexterity and dark imagination makes for compelling listening. Unfortunately D-Styles's perverse "horrorphonic" fixation and dogmatic scratch-based approach effectively pigeonhole Phantazmagorea. The producer's horror-film samples and endless arsenal of fucked-up spoken-word tidbits -- Charles Manson speaking in tongues, Hervé Villechaize lamenting life on Fantasy Island, Henry Rollins waxing violent, and others exploring child molestation, prostitution, Satan, and the apocalypse -- beat the album's perpetually ominous atmosphere into the ground. More important, the scratch patterns and uniform tempos lock the songs into a narrow sound template. Phantazmagorea is impressive in technical terms, but listeners outside of hard-core turntable circles may find D-Styles's excursions difficult to digest.