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Toby Frith (Tunbridge Wells)

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Mimikry
Mimikry

4.0 out of 5 stars Blixa steals the show..., 19 July 2011
This review is from: Mimikry (Audio CD)
Collaborations between two established musicians with their own defined sonic aesthetics are intriguing affairs. It's hard not to imagine the results beforehand in your own mind - a collision of styles and ideas thrown together. Blixa Bargeld, whose chromatic career has spanned Einsturzende Neubauten and the Bad Seeds, is one of the more colourful and individual characters in music - a man with a thousand experiences and tales that he delivers with a rasping, yet oddly golden voice. I don't think that there is a man alive that can make the german language both frightening and deliciously succulent at the same time. He brings his own unique vocal talents to a project that the austere, shadowy Carsten Nicolai provides musical accompaniment to. As one might expect from him, this album is full of throbbing hums, hisses and polarised, intense bursts of sound.

Mimikry was born out of several collaborations between the two from 2007 onwards. Given the relative simplicity of the arrangements, it's not hard to spot that these songs (with several being covers) were somewhat improvised, yet what leaps out after a few listens is the rich emotional tapestry that Bargeld weaves into Nicolai's music. The Raster-Noton head honcho has made his name by producing material that is at times almost academic, concentrating on producing a soundworld full of angular lines, arcs and waves of carefully controlled distortion. Whilst it's not hard to be enthralled by the intensity of this very black and white sonic landscape at times, it lacks for want of a more sophisticated term, a human touch. Like Uwe Schmidt's album last year, more palpable emotional content lifts these works out of the self-obsessed area that this little-criticised label inhabits at times.

Bargeld's range of emotions in his voice bring life to some of the more violent compositions, especially during one of the album's best tracks, "Ret Marut Handshake", which is about the mysterious anarchist and author B. Traven. Switching between english and german, his machine-gun delivery pulls the listener in and out of Nicolai's beat structures to disorientating effect. Likewise, on ten minute opener "Fall" the two of them twist and mould together their trademark howls, silence and hisses into a grand epic.

It's not all snarling and screaming though. Harry Nilsson's "One" is treated with velvet-gloved care, Nicolai's subtle washes of sound caressing Bargeld's honeyed voice beautifully. Elsewhere, old folk classic "I wish I was a mole in the ground" , oft-quoted as an influence on rock nihilism, veers between the latter's whispers and heartfelt rage with accompanying musical distress.

The latter half of the album builds with some emphatic compositions - most notably "Berghain" and "Wust", where Nicolai builds an impressive sound collage to accompany what sounds like Bargeld's descent into madness. Title track "Mimikry" will appeal to fans of the label - he keeps his vocals to the odd phrase and doesn't seize control, leaving the latter to churn out an intriguing techno track full of staccato rhythms.

Given that this is a collection of collaborations over a period of time rather than an "album" in the strict sense, Mimikry is surprisingly coherent and very enjoyable. Bargeld's largesse in his vocal talents gives the proceedings both an artistic refinement and a suitably subterranean veneer. Whether this is due to Nicolai's role as a musical facilitator than composer is difficult to ascertain. As much as his sound compositions provide drama, it's hard to get away from the fact that this is very much Bargeld's album - his presence and range gives Mimikry life.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 27, 2012 10:31 AM BST


WELL SPENT YOUTH
WELL SPENT YOUTH
Price: £14.84

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Frustratingly difficult to enjoy, 14 July 2011
This review is from: WELL SPENT YOUTH (Audio CD)
If one were to compare music to physical entities, then Rajko Müller's efforts would be something akin to a fragile, faintly psychedelic bird. His songs have a frail and ornate feel to them that recalls the dainty splendour of a peacock or the faint ephemeral buzz of a hummingbird. The beats and synth lines dart about, both gracefully and in a haphazard manner, leading the listener up blind alleys or cul-de-sacs. Müller, like a bird eluding the clumsy grasp of a less mobile predator, always tries to evade whatever tag is applied to his music.

Naturally, when you've written one of the finest house records ever made relatively early in your career, that can often have an unfortunate effect on what you make next. It is eternally to Müllerr's credit that he avoided that with diligence, following it up instead with equally outstanding records such as "Brazil" and "Schrapnell". He is one of the great originals of the genre.

With only his third album in just over a decade and just under six years after the splendour of "We are Monster" sees the release of Well Spent Youth. Like the other two proceeding it, the album is an individual affair - there are very few, if any musicians within the same field that construct their compositions with such due care. He carefully eschews most of the standard motifs that we hear all too often in dance music, instead weaving a tapestry of atonal washes, bass plucks and oscillating hums into a collection of eleven tracks.

Those who follow Müller's music with interest will know that his style and ideas have become more and more abstract in the last couple of years. Recent remixes have been remarkably strange, if not a little on the dull side at times compared to the sheer colour of his earlier style. Artists have to evolve naturally - the best don't keep coming up with the same idea all the time - but it's not hard to listen to Well Spent Youth without feeling that some of the tracks here are intentionally difficult to follow. There are highs, but on many occasions Müller's music bubbles and boils without expanding or indeed constricting. It's a long album at over an hour and could have been reduced to say, 7 or 8 songs for a more nourishing experience.

"Paloma Trieste" which opens proceedings, starts where We are Monster left off, keeping many of the ambiguous melodic ideas from that album with off-key melodic lines featuring prominently. "Thirteen Times an Hour" is much more uptempo, but it's disappointing in its normality - it sounds like something Dave Moufang might chuck out on one of his offdays and despite the key change towards the end, fails to excite. The same goes for recent single "Taktell", which shows promise with its densely packed sounds and grooves, but ultimately can't quite decide where to go.

Matters veer off the dancefloor after a while in the middle and that's where the album does pick up. Always one for throwing you off-balance with a surprise, his "Going Nowhere" is a mysterious number, keeping the suspense high with persistently atonal bleeps propelling it along before mutating into what I can only phrase as a lament.

If there's one great track on the album, it's the shimmering "Hold On". Pulled along by a succulent melody, like everything else here it's understated and the insectoid percussion that adorns it gives it a particular verve. Müller is keen here to add or decorate a lot of sound all over the album and it's rare that you have time to concentrate on what he's doing before a whisper of strange noise or distant samples disorientate you. The final track "Lost Country" takes this idea to completion, providing a suitably elegant finale with a melody of sustained chords that waft in and out of a chorus of crackles, whistles and drones.

It is difficult to know where Müller is taking you with a lot of his music. In fact I suspect that sometimes he doesn't either and that is part of his charm. Not one to pander to commercialism, this album is another in the tradition of his previous two, leaving you slightly bemused and at the same time eager to try and break the intriguing sonic code that he scrambles much of his music with. It's not without its faults though, with several of the tracks less than substantial and the feeling that, "Hold On" apart, there isn't more than one truly great track on here that enriches the experience.

Well Spent Youth is an album that will most likely leave newcomers to his material none the wiser whilst initiates, not entirely satisfied, will have something to chew over during the long wait for the next one.


What Have We Learned
What Have We Learned
Price: £15.17

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Invigorating electronic explorations, 14 July 2011
This review is from: What Have We Learned (Audio CD)
Given Techno's simplicity, I've always felt a little disappointed that we've not heard much more from some of the more unusual areas of the globe. That's probably in part down to the sheer cost and availability of equipment, but also because the culture that it comes with can often be so underground as to not exist.

Rabih Beaini aka Morphosis comes from a place not normally associated with such music, namely the Lebanon, but moved to Venice in the mid-90's to make music. He sent up his own label Morphine, which since 2005 has released a number of raw and distinct records from people such as Shake, Madteo and Hieroglyphic Being. Some of his own releases were given a strong Levantine association, with titles such as "Dark Days of Phoenicia" and "Musafir" (Arabic for Traveller).

That sense of displacement and to a certain extent, isolation, has helped Beaini put together a strong identity in terms of his music. It's dark and abstract, but doesn't resort to high tempo or aggression to put its point across, relying instead on sonic ambiguity and a myriad of influences, channelled into some invigorating compositions.

What We Have Learned, Beaini's debut album, sees him move up a gear in terms of his ideas and sounds. There's something of a early 80's post-disco vibe to matters, recalling the mutant funk of Bill Laswell's Material or the hazy, spatial explorations of Holger Czukay and Jah Wobble. The clattering reverb of opener "Silent Screamer" sounds a little like Public Image, but is brought into the 21st century by a languid synth and distant sampled, disembodied voices. It's an uncertain start to an album that never really leaves this particular aesthetic, but flowers in unexpected directions as you continue to listen.

"Spiral" is the album's thundering techno moment, albeit at a steady 118 bpm, threatening to accelerate to a new level with each clattering hi-hat. "(Have we really gone) Too Far" features a delightfully idiosyncratic female vocal that accentuates the title question beautifully alongside some middle-eastern sounds. This is a richly analogue album with plush sinewaves and tones cascading throughout. When paired with decisive-sounding 808 beats, it can make for hypnotic listening, as evinced by "Wild in Captivity".

It's not all dancefloor material either. "Gate of Night" features what sounds like gamelan percussion backing a spacious and sonorous synth line that gives the impression that Beani's synthesizer is a living, breathing organism, whilst closer "Europa" sees out the album in an abstract fashion. Where the album does seem to peak though is with the slow-burning techno jams that Beaini attempts to slowly cram as much sound into as possible. "Dirty Matter" starts off with pounding drums and guttural bass before ascending new ground, as all manner of sounds are condensed into it. Although we've heard these types of compositions before, there's something refreshingly loud about it - the compression and production levels are mastered cleverly so that it really leaps out at you and I imagine it would sound emphatic at proper volume.

What we have learned is that Beaini is slowly but surely gaining a reputation as a musician within the sphere of both house and techno to take notice of. This album glows and burns patiently without really catching fire, but for those interested in the more abstract and ambiguous in the genre, it's essential listening.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 16, 2012 10:39 PM GMT


Wordplay for Working Bees
Wordplay for Working Bees
Offered by thebookcommunity
Price: £33.74

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Cerebral Techno, 14 July 2011
Luca Mortellaro's striking debut album release on his own label is a nebulous affair, full of swirling, rugged hiss and disorientating thunder. Before you even start the music, the combination of title and label name conjure up a rich resonance - the metronomic beeping glow of a stroboscope contrasted against a cloudy insectoid hum.His label has in a short period of time established itself as a hallmark of covert hypnotic techno.

Composed of eleven tracks, it convulses and mutates in unexpected places, never quite settling down and leaving you disorientated at times. Fans of more linear techno will be left disappointed - indeed apart from a couple of mutated dancefloor tracks, there is little here that is aimed at the functional. Instead Wordplay is happy to snake its way through a dappled terrain of electrical hum and cyclical fizz, recalling the early releases of Mika Vainio at times. The accompanying sampled dialogue that you hear with several tracks has its roots in the more politicized electronic albums of the 80's, recalling the likes of Jack Dangers, Jello Biafra or Mark Stewart.

Wordplay also steadfastly refuses to be chained down to one style, with Mortellaro happy to punctuate the narrative with ambient tracks, thus diffusing any sort of momentum. Only towards the end does he introduce lighter elements, resulting in a vaguely cinematic finish to the album.

The track titles recall Autechre, never being more than five letters long and often looking as they've been dismembered with a scalpel. Like them, there's no doubting that the sound design at times on this album is of a high standard. In particular on the most visceral track "Lav", colossal swathes of sound crash into one another with ferocity. It's a compelling moment, but for all the energy created by it, there's no move onto something else - in most instances on these tracks, by four minutes or so you've heard all you need to hear of the song and that compounds the problem for a further three or so. The album ultimately lacks something more crucial, namely the ability to progress. Many of the songs take a central idea or motif, yet fail to move onto something else during the composition.

Furthermore, the addition of the aforementioned spoken word samples bring it down a notch, being superfluous to the music that they accompany. These sound bolted on and clunky when you consider the singular lack of any other political aesthetic on the album.

Perhaps these are harsh criticisms. The rumbling nine minute epic that is "Bein" does to its credit manage to shrug off these criticisms just through its sheer bravura. This throbbing voyage of shuffling bass and simmering tension captivates throughout and it's the strongest on the album. "Es" and "Ter" both showcase a more human, if somewhat distant, side to the compositions and "Torul" scuttles about in the darkness as if it were the soundtrack to a startled badger's evening.

There is much to commend about Wordplay with Mortellaro's ideas and sound design auguring well for future productions. His steadfast refusal to comply with some of the very rigid structures that many other techno producers still adhere to can only serve him well. As an album though, it's difficult to come away from it without feeling that this is a canvas of various textures and ideas, rather than something more emphatic.


We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
Price: £17.80

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gorgeous, illuminating synthpop, 14 July 2011
Although it's only 31 minutes long, there's 11 superior songs of synthpop on this album that you'll find it difficult to better anytime soon. This is a cracking elegy to the art of musical brevity, fused with some powerful emotions due to Maus's captivating performance.

Originally a part of the Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti lineup, Maus is also a professor of political language, but took time to study composing as well. It shows, because "We must become" is littered with glorious hooks, middle eights, soaring choruses and most importantly, a wide range of musical textures, indicative of someone with a proper training in the art of composition. At the centre of it though is Maus's own voice - an addictive mix of Ian Curtis's baritone and idiosyncratic character. Add some compelling and addictive vocal refrains, from the staccato spasm of "Pussy is not a matter of fact" to the slow ballad of "Cop Killer" and the result is a varied, addictive and vigorous album. He is never less than compelling at all times, although it must be said that his breathless political polemic in the press release seems a bit out of sync with the simplicity of the pop album.

Initially it's not easy to escape the comparison of Joy Division. "Quantum Leap" sounds like an outtake of "Shadowplay", but this isn't a rehash of Factory records devotion - Maus's programming of this album means that you swoop between many themes and sounds. Album opener "Streetlight" is suffused with a harpischord-style arpeggio and glacial echo that sets the scene for half an hour of elegant, energetic electronic pop music.

There's time for beauty too - "Hey Moon" rolls off Maus's tongue with a slickness that isn't in line with some of the lo-fi elements elsewhere, making the contrast all the stronger. "Keep Pushing On" has some contrived tape hiss, yet the melodies and his vocal presence brush aside any concerns.

Like all great pop, close inspection often means that you can't see the woods for the trees. However Maus has cleverly kept this album brief, loading it with hooks, key changes and anthems that will have you returning to it time after time, resurrecting the strength of early synthpop's direct strength and wrapping it in a cloak of his own identity. I can't think of an album in a long time that does what all great music should do - make you feel ALIVE.


Channel Pressure
Channel Pressure
Price: £13.09

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Keytars and Jan Hammer tributes aside...this is a great album, 5 July 2011
This review is from: Channel Pressure (Audio CD)
At the heart of Daniel Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never) and Joel Ford's project (formerly known as Games but renamed due to legal constraints) is an unashamed love for the vintage synthesizer and a specific period of pop music, say around 1984 - 1986, often thought of as something of a black hole of taste by fashionistas. Think air-brushed album covers, cerise suit jackets, a penchant for electronic drums and keytars.

"Channel Pressure" is a loose concept album based on a child's Wizard of Oz meets Tron-like immersion in a digitsed version of the music industry. Get past this somewhat feather-light facade and you have an opportunity for two musicians to get to grips with some of their favourite music - and boy, does it show. There's a lot to love here, even if much of it is a great deal in debt to the previously mentioned masters. Some of the recording was completed at Jan Hammer's studio for maximum vibe-soaking effect. However, with Scott Herren (aka Prefuse73) brought in for some post-production help, the album isn't entirely caught up in the past.

Although I'm loathe to compare Ford and Lopatin to a certain successful French duo, there is a similarity in both acts' undiminished love for pop music - dredging up old influences in an unashamed manner and utilising their sonic power to great effect. It's all done with a real sense of bravura as well, that with each listen adds another layer of charm.

The title track and opener sets the scene, digitised slap bass and subtle vocoders taking you right back to 1985. "Emergency Room" continues in the same vein, angular synths and shredded keytar shrouding a wonderful pop chorus. This is maximal electronic music, coming at you in great slabs of sound, the tension coming in its wake with relative silence. "Too much MIDI" demonstrates this in almost deafening waves of squealing electronics contrasted against a sleek funk sound. Unusually, there's also something akin to an R & B ballad in "Break Inside" - and to their credit, they pull it off with nonchalant skill.

There are anthems too. Lots of them. "The Voices" is more akin to an electronic version of Simon & Garfunkel than anything else, whilst closer "World of Regret" merges Jarre-era "Zoolook" with an extraordinary dollop of stadium pop. It's an album brimming with pop nous and innocence - a powerful paradox of nostalgia and knowledge that grabs the 3 minute mantle and rushes off down the street safe in the knowledge that it won't be relinquishing its grasp yet. Far from being content to navigate the outer borders of popular music, Ford and Lopatin have made a concerted dash for its galactic centre. "Channel Pressure" is a bold, invigorating record that reminds you what electronic equipment is capable of.


Revisited & Remixed 1970-99
Revisited & Remixed 1970-99
Price: £13.19

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed results for a project that was always going to fall short, 5 July 2011
The idea that you have to "Remix" and"Revisit" old music in order for the "younger generation" to appreciate it seems woefully out of date nowadays. Our ability to find and value unusual music is so much more attuned in an age of youtube videos and digital downloads, that one wonders if projects like this, a double CD celebrating Popol Vuh with some reinterpretations, really have any value anymore.

On the other hand though, for Popol Vuh to be recognised at all must have some worth. They remain the most enigmatic of all the German bands, having been one of the first to use proper electronic equipment only to reject it when all the others started to embrace it. This release is timed to celebrate the 10th anniversary of founder Florian Fricke's death and was commissioned by his son Johannes alongside original band member Frank Fiedler.

I've become a huge fan of Popol Vuh in the last five years. Their music has a timeless sense of displacement about it, untouched by the hand of modernity even though Fricke was one of the first to own the original Moog synthesizers. He went backwards in time with the machine, using the acoustics of a church for the sepulchral "Affenstunde" or applying phantom voices for the soundtrack to Herzog's "Aguirre". Germany at that time was a cauldron of ideas, political foment and the sound of generations crashing against each other. Fricke's music seems both intensely allied to it and yet at the same time light years away from it. And then, of course he rejected it and went back to a simple interplay of guitar, piano, voices and eastern instrumentation.

Having been extremely disappointed by the Can remix project back in 1997, it was with trepidation that I heard about this. This idea was, according to SPV, helped by Richard D James asking to reissue Affenstunde. No remix from him sadly(which I must admit I would be very excited to hear), but the likes of Stereolab, Moritz Von Oswald, Dixon & Ame, Peter Kruder and The Orb w/ Thomas Fehlmann appear, alongside the two contributions from Mika Vainio and Haswell/Hecker that was released as a single by Editions Mego in 2008. All in all, a slightly predictable cast, but understandable.

The results are, well, mixed. Adding drum machine beats to great ambient music most of the time is like Klaus Schulze reinterpreting Mozart, i.e a horror story that you can never forget. To his credit, Peter Kruder's reinterpretation of Aguirre is one of the best, applying a feather-lite rhythm and letting the original synths coalesce into a house tempo without letting it slide into mundanity. The Schwarz/Dixon/Ame remix of "Heart of Glass" also keeps the fractured beauty, but adds some subtlety and doesn't attempt to yank the song into the 21st century. Alex Barck (of Jazzanova) treats "Haram Dei Haram Dei" lightly, adding some electronic trills early on before building it to a dancefloor climax - the fact that he doesn't throw in a 4/4 beat immediately gives it a structure closer to the original.

This can't be said of Roland Appel's treatment of "Kyrie", which is pretty disastrous. One of Fricke's finest creations being turned into something you'd hear at DC10 or some other Balearic hellhole. Whilst Fricke's son curated this project, I do think his father would turn in his grave on hearing that. Moritz Von Oswald's version of "Garten Pharaos" doesn't reach the same level of horror, but it's quite dull, a dubby M5 style beat that really doesn't go anywhere. Similarly, The Orb's re-edit of "Nachts Schnee" just doesn't have the same sense of range and tension that the Vainio version does.

Thankfully Mouse on Mars go the other way, turning "Through Pain through Heaven" into something completely different after 2 minutes, processing the melody cleverly into a quite psychotic-sounding freeform piece. In terms of invention, it's certainly one of the better versions. Haswell and Hecker's digital reworking of "Aguirre" from 2008 fizzes and sparks with some predictability, but it's still wonderful.

This was always going to be a bold attempt and elements of it hit the spot whilst others miss completely. It's not particularly satisfying for a fan like myself, but the objective is make people aware of a group of musicians who did something magical back then and perhaps more importantly, had an aesthetic and approach to making music that seems unimaginable in the electronic realm nowadays - i.e made in the image of religion.


Coast/Range/Arc
Coast/Range/Arc

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Invigorating ambient sounds, 5 July 2011
This review is from: Coast/Range/Arc (Audio CD)
Scott Morgan's latest release contains no surprises if you've heard any previous material but is peculiarly compelling, if only for how "large" he manages to make everything sound. Considering the impetus for this recording, the mountains and coasts of the Pacific NorthWest, that's then no real surprise either, but it is to his credit that he translates their immensity into dronesoundscapes of an intensity that few others can match.

"Brohm Ridge" is the best of the six tracks on offer, changing regularly in an almost atomized manner during its 11 minute length and by the time they've travelled through it, the listener is somewhere completely different. Despite none of the other tracks really being a great deal different in style, there's enough here to satisfy any fan of both Morgan's and the genre itself. If you can put aside any pre-baked assumptions about the relative lack of ambition in ambient music today, then this is as good as you'll hear in 2011.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 2, 2012 7:44 PM BST


Freude Am Tanzen 5zig
Freude Am Tanzen 5zig
Price: £13.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Hard to find out a standout track, 9 Jun. 2011
This review is from: Freude Am Tanzen 5zig (Audio CD)
A label that's been around a lot longer than you might think, Freude am Tanzen celebrate their 50th release with this compilation. Home to such acts as the Wighnomy Bros, Soulphiction and Jackmate, they've provided a visible element to the changing German house scene without really making a great impact. It's difficult to think of a record in their discography that stands out in an individual manner like say, releases on Perlon, Philpot or even Lawrence's Dial label. Harsh words, but given the sheer number of labels within this ever-growing scene, definition in the form of good records is all-important.

As one might expect from a label of this type, this compilation is a mixed bag of emotions and textures centred around a consistent 122 - 127 bpm, from the shuffling minimalism of Daniel Stefanik to the jacking beats of Taron Trekka. There's no real surprise here if you've been keeping your ear to the ground with this sort of stuff. It is however, refined and there are some gems here for fans of this material.

Opener "Mother Cries" from Kadebostan relies on some beautiful sampled strings for atmosphere and carries it off despite the lack of progression. Marek Hemmann's "Pictures" similarly uses strings alongside some plucked guitar to good effect and the aforementioned Stefanik's "Tension in Leipzig" careers about in a looser fashion than others. Stefan Schultz goes for a 110 bpm house thumper called "Guununk". Given that it's slower in tempo, it stands out just because of this, but there's a refreshing analogue feel to the production as well.

The start of the show is Robag Wruhme's "Haftbolle", which echoes Monolake and F.U.S.E for a timely reminder of how invigorating techno once was. Yet there's also a lot of dross. Frustratingly, Matthias Kaden tries to ape Recloose with "Red Walls" and fails, whilst tracks from the likes of Monkey Maffia, Douglas Greed and others pass by without so much of a flicker of interest. If the compilation had been reduced to 7 or 8 tracks, then it could have been a lot stronger.

"5zig" has moments of interest, but like their discography, it's difficult to move away from the perception that they've yet to find a producer or sound that really stands out from the crowd. Freude Am Tanzen can certainly put a strong claim in to being one of the first labels to be a part of the German house renaissance of the late nineties, but this compilation only serves to further the notion that they're not one of the most important.


The Power
The Power
Offered by Big World UK
Price: £28.84

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Conceptual album that falls a little short., 9 Jun. 2011
This review is from: The Power (Audio CD)
There was always something rather charming about the pseudo-philosophical claptrap that Jeff Mills used to write on his records. It may not have made sense to the average person buying them, but who cared when the music was superb?

Track titles such as "Gateway to Zen", "Humana" and the wonderful "Condor to Mallorca" offset the mysterious sonic worlds that Mills summoned with some powerful imagery. Then, at the height of his musical powers, with "At First Sight" and "Metropolis" back in the earlier part of the last decade, that writing began to fade from the records. Mills stripped back the written concept and instead concentrated on unifying them thematically with the music he was making. These were his best albums, featuring some superb, textured techno.

The Power continues the "Sleeper Wakes/Contact" saga that Mills unveiled some time ago. To be honest, it seems as if no one apart from him really knows what's going on with these new concepts, apart from the fact that he's obviously concerned a great deal with space. You can read a 16 page story that he's written with the album, but we're here for ze techno and as you might imagine, it's dark, ambiguous and at times, utterly thrilling. "Microbe" is all chimes and cymbal rides, composed with mature élan and I suspect probably in about 30 minutes - so often have we seen him produce a track like this that he could do it with his eyes closed. The odd flash of hi-hat gives the track that element of urgency that so many other techno producers fail to master.

There's a strong sonic blueprint at work here; crystal-sharp synths playing off against deep swells of bass and 909 kickdrums. It's a very simple but effective set of sounds that he keeps to, mastering frequencies rather than testing the water with new ones. The album's best track - "A race to save our thoughts" combines these elements in a truly cosmic manner, as droplets of sound cascade around sustained strings, making it sound as if it wouldn't be out of place in 2001, with all due deference to Ligeti. "Hallucinations" is even more psychedelic, throbbing with a slow intensity.

The middle section of the album is ambient and surprisingly experimental. Mills veers into Japanese Noise/Mika Vainio territory with the scratchy hiss of "Memory Reset" and "Spiral Therapy". However, like a story that doesn't have a twist, The Power drifts away disappointingly with a sequence of rhythmic tracks that deflate the momentum unnecessarily. "The Transformation" is the best of the lot, but apart from the signature faint eruptions of atmosphere, it's a frustrating end to the album, if only because one might expect him at some point to end with something more dramatic. Restraint rather than those glorious moments of untrammelled sound of yore seems to be the aesthetic he prefers now.

Mills has mastered a particular sound and theme in techno that is his alone, which in this saturated era is an accomplishment. It is enjoyable to see at least one Detroit techno artist still furthering the futurism that the genre was born in all those years ago. With age, it's to be expected that the raw, unbridled energy of those machines from the 90's would mellow and whilst The Power hints at a darker groove, it lacks the magical spark that laces his older records.


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