Your author hasn’t had much luck with releases from The Bug. The experimental bass music, aggro rap and dancehall backed by Londoner Kevin Martin has long felt too dense to unravel, too relentlessly angry to merely enjoy. Restraint and deliberate action color The Bug’s proper fourth album, Angels & Devils, and for at least half of it there’s the sense a sea change is at hand.
The Bug’s music has always been moody, but the first six tracks here constitute a rare moment where Martin favors a slow burn over KILLING IT WITH FIRE. Angels & Devils kicks off with atmospheres lifted from contemporaries like Massive Attack (“Fall”) and Flying Lotus (“Void”). The fuzzy percussion piece “Ascension,” neofolk organ of “Pandi” and Miss Red’s cooing dancehall number “Mi Lost” might comprise 12 of the best minutes of music The Bug’s committed to tape.
It’s a shame that the second half of the album backslides into old habits, with The Bug goading listeners and competitors into dick-measuring contests. It’s a constant and irritating procession of jet-engine whooshes, robotic marching-band loops and cacophonous braggadocio. The worst offenders include the mindless Warrior Queen vehicle “Fuck You” and “Fuck a Bitch,” a metaphorical statement on strength and weakness from Death Grips that’s an awful look for them as they head out music’s door.
Still, we have to admit that Angels & Devils actually shows a bit of artistic growth and sonic diversity. “Fat Mac” in particular finds Martin’s metallic beats and metal riffs helping Flowdan channel Hyperdub’s minimalist secret weapon Kode9: “Third verse, killing gets way worse/They said stuff, get their face burst/Skin graft, skin burn/I laugh, they learn.” The Bug is learning the hard way that musical poison and booby-traps can be just as sinister as heavy-artillery production.