Drum ‘n’ bass, if you can still use a generic moniker like that when speaking of Roni Size, is easy to misunderstand. The beats themselves are often similar in speed, intensity and construction, so those unaccustomed to turning on the natural receptors in their brains to the king of the Bristol scene may not get it. That’s okay. Size’s Return to V offers more components to draw those listeners in and make them understand, especially since it is a vocally oriented album. This alone should break some barriers amongst the uninitiated.
But it is still all about the beats. Take some of the tracks served here and what Size has again added to the genre. When opener “Bump’n’Grind” begins with vocal promptings and spiraling synths, you feel the juice building toward that beat, which you may have heard before but are begging to hear again. That’s the way the beats are used — as climaxes to everything else he’s building with the track’s other components. And when they explode across your speakers, the familiarity is the revelation you’ve been waiting for. Frantic, gigantic, nonstop enchantment. That’s Return to V and the goal — and payoff — of Roni Size.
The standard ideas of the “bass” component broaden on Return to V. Where before they may have been upright or electric grooves on the low-end machine, Size has added everything from sharp, percussive synths to warm, swelling organs. Flickering noises abound, as usual, and every track has gorgeous vocals by contributors such as up-and-coming R&B artist Jocelyn Brown (“Somebody Else’s Guy”), reggae star Sweetie Irie, human beatbox extraordinaire Rahzel (best known as a member of the Roots) or U.K. garage-hopster Dynamite. That’s just a few of the album’s nineteen collaborators.
Size is scheduled to head out on tour in early 2005 along with a host of vocalists and a full live band. This is another stage in the man’s evolution of his own creation, and it fits perfectly with the new album. Tracks such as “On and On” and “The Streets” regulate their frantic rhythms almost more like rock songs than what we may be used to from Mr. Size.