Efdemin: New Atlantis (2LP, Ostgut Ton, February 2019)

Phillip Sollmann throws us a curveball at the start of this album: opener Oh, Lovely Appearance Of Death consists of a sort of ambient wash under an a capella rendition of the (predictably cheerful) Funeral Hymn For A Believer sung by visual and performance artist William T Wiley. It’s simple and affecting and certainly not what I was expecting from my last encounter with Efdemin, 2010’s Chicago. (He’s released one record in the meantime, 2014’s Decay, which I didn’t pick up.)

The rest of the album is more conventional dance fare — though thankfully not too conventional. As you might guess from the move from Dial to Ostgut Ton, this is a little less deep-housey and a little more straight techno. It’s also a fair bit more experimental. A pleasingly bouncy beat weaves its way under a rich palette of synth noises which nicely balance melody with abstraction, and there’s a sparing use of some unusual instrumentation, including a “sing-drum” and Konrad Sprenger’s “motor-controlled guitar“. I guess you could characterize it as Berlin minimal seasoned with equal measures of second-generation Detroit and avante-garde invention (perhaps most strikingly in the moment near the end of Black Sun where it suddenly slows to about half speed, which sounds outrageous but somehow works). And the whole thing is done with precision and flair and it works rather brilliantly.

Incidentally, the title is a reference to Francis Bacon’s 17th century utopian sci-fi novel, which also provides the spoken word element of album closer The Sound House.

I bought this from Juno. They call it Techno.

Ellen Allien: Nost (3xLP, Bpitch Control, May 2017)

nost

Well, this is a surprise — and, on reflection, a pretty awesome one. I’ve been a fan of Ellen Allien’s since 2005’s Thrills, and enjoyed hearing her evolution as she combined the accessible and the experimental on 2008’s Sool and especially 2010’s Dust — and even to some extent on 2013’s modern dance soundtrack LIsm although I do have mixed feels about that. I think it’s fair to say that Nost represents a massive handbrake turn. It is wall-to-wall floor-filling bangers. It’s mostly hard, melodic, Berlin-style techno, although there are touches of Detroit, Sheffield, and some grubby Chicago acid (there’s even a track called, ahem, Jack My Ass). It’s also very, very good: inventive without being tricksy, paced brilliantly, and crammed full of moments of genius (just check out the insanely catchy bleep line on Physical). It’s the sort of record that makes me want to go clubbing again, and just get my head down and dance for hours. Result.

I bought this from Juno. They call it Minimal / Tech House.

Kangding Ray: Hyper Opal Mantis (CD, Stroboscopic Artefacts, March 2017)

Hyper Opal Mantis cover art

It has to be said: if you don’t like listening to someone opening and closing some kind of flangey filtery thing (n.b. perhaps not the correct technical vocab there) then you probably won’t like this record. But then, it also has to be said: if you don’t like listening to someone opening and closing some kind of flangey filtery thing then what the hell is wrong with you? It is one of the most wonderful sounds known to humankind. Get with the programme.

I haven’t 100% loved David Letellier’s music up until now: I compared 2011’s Or unfavourably with the work of Senking, and I stand by that view. With this album, he’s left Raster-Noton for Stroboscopic Artefacts, and he’s also steered a decisive course in the direction of techno and of the dancefloor. And the move has come off beautifully. This is big, bouncy, hard techno, all thumping bass and skittering high-hats and buzzing and squelching and moody sci-fi melodies and, yes, riding the faders like a mother. I basically fell for this about 20 seconds into the opening track, Rubi, which (a) reminds me of Aphex Twin’s Digeridoo, in entirely a good way, (b) kinda makes me want to shout the lyrics of Dominator by Human Resource in time to the kick drum for reasons I can’t properly explain, and (c) is almost 10 minutes long and still leaves me wanting more at the end. And okay, so it doesn’t quite quite sustain that level of awesomeness throughout — the track Onde Mantis, in particular, feels flat to me, which I’m blaming on the live “improvised drumming”… it’s called “techno” for a reason, kids! — but it’s still pretty damned good.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Techno / House.

Xosar: Let Go (LP, Black Opal, September 2016)

Apparently, Sheela Rahman has been releasing 12″s for a few years now, but this is my first encounter with her. And a thrilling encounter it is, too. The tracks explore a range of vaguely IDM-ish analogue techno and squelchy Chicago acid sounds (rather disproving my overly-neat thesis about techno LPs going either deep or broad, since this does a bit of both). There are some real bangers here, hard and furious drum machines dominating but always with enough bloopy melody to avoid making it a tough (or tuff) listen. Others tracks are more floaty and mysterious, although always with a propulsive core to keep things moving along. There’s a superb balance of hard vs gloopy, focus vs delirium, retro vs futurism… Basically, this makes me happy when I listen to it, and I’m giving it two very enthusiastic thumbs-ups.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Techno / House.

Monolake: VLSI (CD, Imbalance, October 2016)

Hooray, Monolake is back! And he’s great! Again! Last week I was pontificating (again) about The Nature Of The Techno Album. In contrast to Roman Flügel’s, this is definitely a record which goes deep rather than broad, sticking to one style and refining and exploring and inhabiting it. Well, I suppose you could argue that there are two styles here, the big, spacious beatless electronica thing and the skittering and glitched up techno thing, but they definitely feel like two sides of the same coin… or perhaps (pontificating again) two different ways of realizing the same idea. Obvious references are Raster-Noton and Plastikman (which I now see are the two references I made about Silence and Ghosts, so at least I’m consistently predictable). They’re equal partners here, too, the beat-free numbers fully developed tracks rather than just acting as an amuse-bouche before the proper-techno main-course. This focussed approach is, of course, a high-risk one: if you’re not absolutely killing it then people are going to get bored. Fortunately, Robert Henke is a cast-iron genius at this stuff and he’s on top top form here. The beat programming, the sound design, the sequencing, the melodies, the pacing, everything is just sublimely well-executed. I mean, sure, the tracks do sort of blend into each other a little bit, but who cares when they sound this good? It finishes with an absolute pair of crackers, too: Nmos is one of the most instantly satisfying tracks here, that skittering beat accompanied by big stabs of a really pleasing synth noise and snatches or distorted vocal sample; Glypnir is a stately, ominous, architectural closing statement; between them, they brilliantly sum up what this brilliant album is about.

(Closing aside: excited as I am to hear Jóhann Jóhannsson‘s soundtrack for Blade Runner 2049, I can’t help thinking that Henke would have been absolutely brilliant for it.)

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.

Roman Flügel: All The Right Noises (CD, Dial, October 2016)

Being someone who’s keen on a spot of the old repetitive beats, but doesn’t get much, I’ve mused much (and written here probably rather too often) on the curious creature that is the techno album. To make a very crude generalization, there seem to be two popular approaches: pick one sound that works for you and hope that people like it enough to stick with it for an hour or so; or cover a range of styles and hope that they cohere well enough to work across the long format. I often find the latter type hard to love. It is into this category that veteran producer Roman Flügel’s latest falls, covering ground from melodic synth music to swampy acid to spacy piano electronica to krautrock to ambient techno to blippy minimal to anthemic tech house. And, indeed, I wouldn’t say that I love this. But there’s a lot of good stuff on here, and it has a happy knack in its timing, where whenever I feel my attention wandering there’s another lovely moment to pull me back in. I like the touch of Selected Ambient Works 89–92 about Nameless Lake, and of wobbly feel-good Gui Boratto about Planet Zorg. But this album is at its best when it’s bringing these familiar elements together in surprising combinations, and I think the one track that really knocks it out of the park for me is Dust, which combines a sort of fluid blippy Ellen Allien-esque line (I don’t think it’s just the title which makes me think of her) with a big stately chord progression that sounds a bit like Trans-Europe Express. Would I prefer to listen to a whole album in that vein? I honestly don’t know. Still, All The Right Noises does come close to doing what it says on the tin, and is definitely worth a listen.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Techno / House.

Petar Dundov: At The Turn Of Equilibrium (4LP+CD, Music Man, May 2016)

Aw, now, this is kind of lovely. It’s techno at its most melodic and hypnotic. The tunes are front and centre of everything here, the beats sitting and the back and just gently propelling things along. In fact, it’s kind of pushing the line between techno and a kind of proggy trancy synth music. The tracks are long (most of the over ten minutes) and the sound is full and the mood is warm and relaxed. (A friend said it reminded him of Ellen Allien & Apparat’s Orchestra Of Bubbles, which is quite a good call.) I have a sneaking suspicion that this is deeply and fashionable and liking this isn’t going to earn me any cred at all, but you know what? I really like this.

I bought this from Juno. They call it Techno.

Brood Ma: Daze (LP, Tri Angle, February 2016)

I have to admit, this record frustrates me at times, as it doesn’t seem to be making the most of the producer’s obvious talents. But there are enough good bits here to make this a keeper. Presented as 13 tracks but effectively a 27 minute continuous mix, it manages to pull in grime, techno, industrial, noise, electronica, and sound effects — plus a bunch more things, probably, and that’s just in the first couple of minutes. The downside of the scattergun approach is that, for the first third or so of its running time, it mostly sounds unfocused, like a kid excited to show you all their toys and not really letting you see anything properly before jumping onto the next thing. It’s about track 7, Molten Brownian Motion, before things start making sense for me: at 2m58s it’s the second longest track here, and manages to finally lock into a groove — and one of an impressively pummelling intensity. For me, the wait is worth it: the next seven or eight minutes are a real visceral thrill. Things do start to drift again near the end, but then the final track, the 5-minute (!) long Nrg Jynx (Daze End Version) is a big snarling monster of bassy synths, machine-gun beats, and a stonking industrial howling and clattering, and all is forgiven.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.

Nick Höppner: Folk (2xLP, Ostgut Ton, March 2015)

Nick Höppner was half of My My, whose 2006 album Songs For The Gentle was a pretty fine example of the sort of minimal-ish techy deepish house that I was lapping up back then. But I can’t say I’d thought about them much in recent years. So when a friend recommended this to me, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Well, I suppose you could say that this is a sort of techy deepish house, although it’s really left any pretension to minimalism behind. At first, I was a bit worried it was going to be too silky smooth, but it’s actually got something good and wriggly going on as well. There’s a nice range of material, the widescreen loveliness of tracks like Come Closer interspersed with denser clubbier numbers like Out Of and even a touch of real darkness in Grind Show. And the closing number, No Stealing is a proper anthem, the kind of thing that makes you want to hug a stranger in a field. So, yes, a bunch of this record’s appeal for me is its nostalgia value, but it’s a real treat nonetheless.

I bought this from Juno. They call it Techno.

Aphex Twin: MARCHROMT30a Edit 2b 96 (LP, Warp, April 2015)

The first of Aphex’s recent flurry of releases (proper releases, that is, I can’t begin to digest all the soundcloud stuff) which really made me go ‘meh’ in the style of a proper old-skool odds-and-sods sort-of-meh Aphex 12″. The title track, which was a bonus track on the Japanese version of last year’s Syro, is a wheezing thing of stuttering beats and distorted vocals: it’s okay, but it’s weaker than the rest of that album and I think leaving it off was the right call. Next up is a remix of the album’s second track, XMAS_EVET10 [120] [thanaton3 mix]. That was very much in the “lovely bloopy ambient techno” section of the record, and appears here in a stripped down fashion as XMAS_EVET1 N: it seems to have most of the same elements (which is a bit weird, his remixes being frequently unrecognizable) but it uses fewer of them at once… to be honest, it sounds thin by comparison and I don’t think it’s very interesting. The final track is a remix of the first, it’s called MARCHROMT38 fast, and it does pretty much what it says on the tin, sounding suspiciously like the title track played at 45 instead of 33: it’s probably the most fun here, although in this context it does end up sounding sort of hurried.

I bought this from Bleep.