Record label: Kinetic/BMG (UK)
Release date: 6 August 2002
Somewhere in New York City (and in other parts of the world, for that matter), someone gets teary-eyed when they remember the day that Twilo got shut down. It was the end of an era for many of Gotham's über-clubbers, particularly those that got sweaty to the sounds of Sasha and Digweed on the last Friday of the month. Maybe that's when a co-worker of mine started following Sasha all over the earth. Recently, he went to D.C. and even trekked to Ibiza earlier in the year to see him spin. I like Sasha's Ibiza double disc set, just not enough to shell out the money to go there and experience it live. "Xpander" was a cool track, but nothing that's going to make the term "progressive" sit well with me when it rolls off someone's tongue. It's just as offensive and elitist as the word "intelligent" when used to describe certain dance beats. Terms like "intelligent jungle" and "intelligent dance music" were bound to make some listeners pissed off, and "progressive house" has the same effect, apparently. A house DJ who spins under the name Paradigm said it best: "Progressive house is neither progressive nor house. Have a nice day."
It's not like the progressive sound is the lowest common denominator (doesn't "ghetto tech" qualify in that regard?), but it is a common denominator. And the release of Sasha's full-length album is the moment that thousands of Twilo worshippers have been waiting for. Love him or hate him, there's gotta be something to the worldwide appreciation of his sets and songs, so I decided to give Airdrawndagger a listen. To be honest, it's more varied than I thought it would be. Sasha's interesting when his material incorporates darker sounds as well as breaks, and this occurs more than once on the album. The lead single, "Wavy Gravy," almost has a minimalist progressive breaks quality, a loud click and thump keeping the beat. It's probably as "funky" as Sasha gets. "Immortal" and "Fundamental" display a darker persona, acidic stabs and swirls dancing around the beat. Most surprising is "Mr. Tiddles," a mood-inducing downtempo piece more music score than dancefloor-oriented. Of course, there's material that gives credence to the belief that many progressive tracks sound the same. Upon first listen, "Magnetic North" and "Golden Arm" sound like the same cut, but the former is a bit more subdued than the latter. "Golden Arm" has this catchy little percussion shuffle in it and I find myself wiggling to it despite not wanting to.
Final verdict: Airdrawndagger isn't terrible. It's not brilliant, but it's not bad. It won't make the haters stop hating, nor will it make his fans love him any less. After a while, I knew exactly where the buildups came in and the beat would drop, but it didn't bother me. I'm keen to guess that it doesn't bother a lot of people. In that respect, Sasha's album drives home the fact that the so-called "progressive" sound could be an audio comfort zone for a wider range of listeners and dancers. And if that's the case, since when did being "progressive" become synonymous with being comfortable? Beats me…