Many new electronic artists, particularly those with a flair for the enigmatic, are open about the debt they owe to Warp Records, though all too often they align themselves deferentially to the still-groanworthy tag “intelligent dance music (a term the best-known Warp artists never cosigned), mistaking obtuseness and difficulty for captivation. Proponents of Warp’s trailblazing influence then ironically get stuck in musical conservatism, forgetting that one of the reasons why artists like Aphex, Autechre, Two Lone Swordsmen etc. struck such a chord in their heyday was their willingness to combine the weird and esoteric with the sounds helping dent club floors at the time (ie drum’n’bass, jungle, garage).
patten, the now-duo (known only as D and A) signed to Warp since 2013, thankfully continue the genre-agnostic tradition. The press release for Ψ (Psi) mentions the influence not just of goth and the various sounds found in what Simon Reynolds called the “hardcore continuum”, but also the hi-gloss sheen of modern pop music (Rihanna in particular) and the grime and footwork acts who are remolding ideas of how to sculpt a club track. Despite the abundance of inspiration, the results are tight, have a consistent sonic character, and show off patten as being idiosyncratic while also offering an alternative to those who struggle to get excited by Autechre’s journeys in microchip astronomy or Aphex Twin’s archive-emptying wheel-spinning.
Psi differs from past patten releases by being steadily worked on through live performances, and the addition of A’s vocals, treated and elliptical to the point of resembling a spoken-word performance, become rendered inscrutable by the noise surrounding it. The duo employ the crushing low-end found in modern trap productions, along with rave stabs and samples from nature recordings. It’s easy to imagine an adventurous MC having a go at ‘used 2 b’ or ‘blade’, though it would undermine the industrial tone of the tracks, like a séance held inside a concrete mixer.
Unlike artists at the dawn of Warp, where CDs encouraged artists to fill every cranny of the disc housing their album, patten keep Psi tight in 40 minutes, never letting a song go on for too long. They have also insisted that their music is made of “songs” in the traditional sense, a short burst of creativity not concerned with whether or not the outro is long enough to allow smooth mixing into something else. ‘True Hold’ and ‘The Opaque’ are comparatively pop-like in construction, the former building up dread in a way that resembles a slow walk into a woodland ritual, the latter boasting an earworm vocal line that makes an instant impression. The album was fiercely edited; tracks cut down from up to five times their final length to avoid unnecessary repetition, and the brevity helps the eventual impact.
Though it takes a few listens to figure out where tracks begin or end, and the closing tracks don’t hold the same kind of interest the rest of the album does (‘yyang’ begins with a bouncy loop uncommon for patten productions that gets discarded before long, and I would have liked to have seen what they would have done with the idea in a longer context), Psi is the strongest statement from the outfit yet, and testament to the importance of avoiding total fidelity when carrying on a groundbreaking sonic tradition.