Albums: Michael Mayer and Silent Servant
The two albums I’ve picked this month offer divergent takes on techno. When Kompakt’s co-owner and most consistently popular DJ and producer Michael Mayer released his last album of original productions, Touch, the label and its melodically minimal sound were very much in vogue. That was eight years ago, however, and in 2012 Kompakt finds itself occupying an uneasy place outside a techno landscape that, at the vanguard at least, has shifted considerably towards darker, harder and more punishing sounds. Whether it is fair or not, there is no doubt that the both the quality of and reception to his new album Mantasy will be taken as an indicator of the label’s health.
The prognosis? Well, the album is full of strong moments, and it is ambitious in how it consolidates elements of the latter day Kompakt sound, with some passages of lush, almost ambient music that nod to one of the label’s more adventurous signings, the shoegaze indebted duo Walls. It has a couple of anthems too. One in its pulsing central track ‘Mantasy’, which blends cosmic disco and kosmische krautrock to great success, and another in its showstopper finale ‘Good Times’, which is easily the most playful dance track I’ve heard this year, a house-inflected hymn to hedonism with a brilliant vocal turn, strings, and that rising synth wail that Mayer and labelmate Superpitcher perfected on their Supermayer Save the World album. Yet there is little on Mantasy that will convince doubters that Mayer has anything fresh to offer us up on behalf of Kompakt. Additionally, there are times when the brass, keys, and relatively cheesey bass patterns get a bit rich. Mantasy is great fun but it won’t be to everybody’s taste.
Silent Servant’s Negative Fascination (on Hospital Productions) sits in stark contrast to Mantasy. Produced by Juan Mendez of the storied Sandwell District project, the album could not be more representative of the darkly muscular sound that has risen through techno over the past couple of years and it may yet be viewed as the high point of the trend’s development. The album is a tour de force from its beginning to its end, completely assured in its ability to inhabit that space discovered by Sandwell District – the blasted centre of a venn diagram drawn around techno and industrial music. If much early techno is future utopian, then this music is future dystopian. In its dark clamour and relentless processes, the album is a never-ending night of the factory. Evoking William Blake’s famous poetic description of ‘dark satanic mills’ (which you might remember from the Olympic games’ opening ceremony), Negative Fascination sounds very English, although, interestingly, Mendez comes from sunny L.A. This is an album of the year.
Robert ‘Ickis’ Mirolo is a young Irish producer based in Dublin who has recently released an EP titled Hark! Crippling Sadness. The title suggests a morbidly humourous mind (an admirer of Morrissey perhaps?) and the lovely artwork, a greyscale image of the sea, might nod towards Fennez. The expressionistic and glitchy music on the EP contains elements of Fennesz’s sound, but Mirolo manages to get up to a lot of different things over the course of twenty five or so minutes. Three tracks in particular stand out. ‘Ear Geography/ Matches in High Wind’ starts off like a Farben track with that unmistakable smooth whirr, but develops beyond the comparison once its live drums kick in, creating the impression of something ghostly acquiring a vital physical presence. The other tracks that stand out for me are the two featuring the voice Margie Lewis, who might be related to Joanna Newsom going by her slightly off kilter vocal style. She sings a blend of image-drunk poetry over the clockwork engineering of Mirolo’s music, coming across like Molly Bloom on the final track, singing sweetly about the sea. Unlike some beat-driven Irish music which has recently been celebrated, but which seems bland to me, Hark! Crippling Sadness is full of character and charm.
Find the EP on Bandcamp.
Live: Robert Hood, November 16th
Robert Hood (pictured) is riding the crest of a wave after completing his stunning trilogy of Detroit concept albums with Motor: Nighttime World 3 and cropping up in various guises on major mixes such as Ben Klock’s Fabric 66. It is fitting that a man so instrumental in the formation of minimal techno (through Underground Resistance) is enjoying a wave of renewed recognition at a time when techno at large is reconnecting with its roots and shading the spaces between the various strands of its development. His forthcoming Irish set in The Kitchen nightclub promises to be a blinder and, at €12 for an early bird ticket, you’d be hard pressed to find better value on a Dublin weekend. Support comes from Jay Galligan and the promoters, BTC Dublin, can be found on Facebook.
If you are an Irish DJ, producer or promoter you can contact A Month in Electronic Music at email@example.com