When I tell you I’ve been driving myself crazy waiting for Ten Thousand Feet & Rising to release, I’m not joking. Often times, I’ll receive promo streams of singles, EPs, and albums days or sometimes a week or two before release. I have had this album since March, and I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve listened to it all the way through. It’s no exaggeration for me to declare that The Prototypes just released the #1 drum & bass album of the year.
But with albums this year from Sub Focus & Wilkinson, Metrik, Netsky, MUZZ, Dom & Roland, Koven, and more, there’s no doubt that they have plenty of competition (though they surely don’t view their contemporaries as “competition,” per se). Still, what The Prototypes have done with this album is beyond compare, and reaffirms how they’ve managed to succeed for the past decade.
The Protoypes released their debut album, City of Gold, back in 2015. It was good, and pushed massive singles like “Pale Blue Dot” and “Kill The Silence,” but it was by and large a reflection of the times and didn’t contain half of the soul and personal energy that TTF&R does. Beginning with “Enter The Warrior” featuring B3NDU, they immediately grab hold of your attention with a slow build and anticipatory production, building suspense until finally the seal is released and all madness breaks loose. You’ll be singing, “Lean back! Hold back! Fall back!” for days.
“Damn, so come and show me something!”
As an album opener, it holds so much strength and power. Not just as a banger in and of itself, but setting a tone for the album and literally telling the listener to “just hold on, there’s way more where this came from.” Enter the warrior is self-referential. The Prototypes came into this album with a purpose and ferocity that we haven’t seen a lot of this year and it absolutely shows.
On the next track, “Shadows” with Lily Mckenzie, they switch it up hard for a wonderfully melodic liquid DnB tune… or at least appear to. Typically, this would break the immersion established in the first track, but the way they transition the end of “Enter The Warrior” into “Shadows” is beautifully executed. Instead of a jarring style switch, it’s a demonstration of new sounds. A shimmering bridge to another world… and as soon as that DUN DUN DUN DUNDUNDUNDUN comes in, you’re hooked. And then the finisher, as it drops into another massive tear out banger.
What this album does so particularly beautifully is subversion of expectations. At the end of the day, we know that The Prototypes have dropped a drum & bass album, but so many elements in the intros of their songs to transitions to bridges and more give you that little voice in the back of your head that says, “Wait, maybe this is different…” And you’re not disappointed when it brings you back to the sound you know, love, and appreciate.
That being said, “Oxygen,” one of the album singles, does break up the pattern with an actual liquid tune, a beautiful one featuring Kudu Blue. But even then, it’s still full of suspense and incredible call & response elements that draw you in. And just as soon as you’re used to this new side of The Prototypes, they bring it back with “Quantum,” a deeply unsettling intro that gives you chills. And another synth section like “Shadows” that exquisitely builds suspense until it’s finally unleashed. It’s a bit Drumsound & Bassline Smith meets The Upbeats with its futuristic synths, vocals, and effects, but culled together with the polar opposite of reckless abandon.
And once again, The Prototypes pull a fast one with another switch up, moving from the intensity of “Quantum” to the allure of “Reason” featuring LOWES. Soaring vocals and a feeling of flying through the sky above a vast expanse easily penetrate the mind as the breakbeat rhythm and orchestral synths echo throughout the song, supported by a delicate and supremely soulful piano run. Until, once again, they switch it up on us.
Here, I have to address the elephant in the room: with so many tracks at odds with one another, one right after the other, how does it not break the immersion? One word: quality. It doesn’t matter that every other track is beautiful and then devastating because every single one of them is made with a quality that is reminiscent of trying all 31 flavors at Baskin Robbins. Because next up is one of the hardest tracks on the album, and — surprise — it’s not even technically drum & bass.
“Paradise” is like Gesaffelstein on PCP in the absolute best way imaginable. It’s one of my favorite singles this whole year, and it’s pure chaos in a sea of tranquility. Opening up with an echoing synth and suspenseful bass, it’s broken by Elle Exxe’s hypnotic voice. Yet, that same suspense keeps building in the background and you just know that something big is about to hit, like the ocean pulling back before a tsunami — the polar opposite of what a paradise should be. And when the pre-drop comes in, that feeling of anxiety is magnified ten-fold.
Finally, the drop hits and it’s like a wave of destruction passing through a defenseless town. Behind the main bassline, an ever-rising synth continues to keep you on edge until it finally breaks. And you feel, although perhaps wrongly, that maybe the worst is behind you. Suddenly, the sirens blare again and you prepare for a second wave, this one impossibly bigger than the first.
After listening through “Paradise,” you should be feeling understandably exhausted, so “Passion” gives you that much needed reprieve. A transfixing melody passes through the speakers as the vocals soar, “Show me passion!” Not quite liquid, not quite anything, “Passion” is a tune and a half.
Then, you guessed it, another switch up with “Electric.” It’s wild how every synth, every vocal, every bass note feels as if electrified, as if onomatopoeaizing the song itself. It’s another absolute belter of a banger, once again pulling you out of the safety of the song before and throwing you around a room filled with punching bags as you race the other end, Jackass-style.
“Killer” ends the switch up dichotomy with another banger right after the previous, featuring the intense vocals of 2Shy MC. That being said, the style is a definite switch up within the banger world, this time going heavy into neuro stylings and a chaotic rhythm that is even crazier than “Electric.” Sweltering bass notes and a reverbed echo in the background give it an eerie and terrifying feel, especially coupled with 2Shy’s unique style of singing and yelling.
As we finally enter the epilogue of the album, the final two songs, “Rocket Guns Blazin'” refuses to let up even an inch. With an instantly engrossing synth line, you’re again thrust into the unknown, only given clues as to what could be awaiting on the other side. The answer is pure insanity. A halftime rhythm and pounding bassline again show The Prototypes’ versatility and power in the studio. And that synth line that appears throughout the song is a triumph on its own. As the final drop picks up the usual drum & bass rhythm, the synth line itself goes into a sort of halftime, stretched construction. Never before have I heard a producer switch up the tempos of the synths and drums like this, let alone actually swapping them.
Finally, the title track of the album, “Ten Thousand Feet & Rising,” gives us our last reprieve. A breath of fresh mountain air after a series of intense, bloody battles that would leave anyone exhausted and begging. It’s that drink of water after a personal record run, that first cup of coffee after a particularly restless night, that first drink of beer after a long day of work, that reunion with friends after a pandemic — it’s hope in a song. It’s beautiful, melodic, and noticeably without vocals after an album of mostly vocal features. It’s that deep breath when you know it’s finally safe to relax and just… let things be.
Ten Thousand Feet & Rising isn’t just the #1 drum & bass album of the year, it might be one of the finest electronic albums in a long time. With plenty of elements calling back to the classics of drum & bass and the intention to always push it forward working hand in hand, The Prototypes have created a timeless album in an era of short, streamable singles and it won’t soon be forgotten.
Do yourself the honor and service of listening to Ten Thousand Feed & Rising below.