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.
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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.