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DVA – Pretty Ugly review

Out of anyone to emerge in the UK funky scene, Scratcha DVA has been one of the key antagonists of the sound. His style veers wildly between moods, from sweet introspection to dutty swagger, quite often in the same bar. Between a show on Rinse FM and an increasingly steady release schedule on Hyperdub, in some ways DVA has transcended the trappings of his grime background to reach a kind of creative liberation where almost anything goes in his music. There’s a common kind of groove across the whole of Pretty Ugly, which is the closest delineation to DVA’s UKF contemporaries, but beyond that the tracks go anywhere and everywhere.

“Reach The Sun” is a brave opener for an album, but it sets the tone perfectly with a prolonged tease of an intro full of deranged arpeggios which drops away into a haunting, tribal thud inhabited by wordless women’s voices. It reaches a psychedelic crescendo before plateauing out on a wistful tip, covering and combining a huge spread of ideas in less than four minutes. People that have been wise to DVA’s music already will instantly spot the glutinous beat of 2010’s “Natty” splattering out underneath Fatima’s perfect vocal for “Just Vybe”. It’s telling when it comes off as one of the more straight-up tracks on the album.

If there’s one thing that defines DVA it’s the title of this album, and the track that accompanies it. His real gift is in capturing a pure and sweet feeling whilst expressing it in an utterly bizarre way. The previously released “Madness” with Vikter Duplaix is an equally head-twisting R&B gem, coming on like Sa-Ra in a particularly mischievous mood. For someone that takes so many chances with his music, it’s incredible how rarely his music dips. Even when he’s closing out on a dramatic synthesised orchestral piece (“Where I Belong”), he makes it sound completely natural. An album with so many vocal contributions could come off sounding contrived or patchwork, but the strength of DVA’s personality pulls everything together and creates, somewhat unexpectedly, a triumphant collection of neo-soul in the process.

Oli Warwick


1.The Sun
2. Just Vybe (feat Fatima)
3. Polyphonic Dreams
4. Pretty Ugly (feat Cornelia)
5. Bare Fuzz
6. Madness (feat Vikter Dupnelia)
7. Fire Fly (feat Zaki Ibrahim)
8. Why You Do? (feat AL)
9. The Big Five
10. Eye Know (feat Natalie Maddix)
11. 33rd Degree (feat Muhsinah)
12. Where I Belong