07/04/2020 This week I have been mostly listening to

Skee Mask – Shred (2016). The strength of this album, along with 2018’s Compro, is pushing Skee Mask towards the top of my current favourite electronic artists. I’m finding it hard to articulate why his music is so good, or even really to describe it. Breakbeat techno, I guess. Moody, cinematic, expansive. He is adept at building a great sense of space and depth, both within individual tracks and across the album, which is bookended by more ambient pieces, with the breakbeat-driven bangers falling in the middle.

Comparing this to his second album, I would say Shred is more overtly melodic – the tracks on Compro being either more breakbeat-led, or repetitive meditations on a particular refrain. But both albums are cut from the same cloth. Skee Mask uses great washes of sound (pads?) and deceptively simple beats, and there are practically no discernible samples, which gives this a timeless quality. If it weren’t for the superior production quality, a track like Reshape could almost sound like Analogue Bubblebath-era Aphex. Many of these tracks would work in a rave but this album is more than capable of holding its own as pure listenin’ music. So yeah, I’m struggling to know what else to say apart from go forth and listen!

Maurizio – M-Series (1997) and Domina (1993). It’s hard to overstate Mortiz von Oswald and Mark Ernestus’ influence on electronic music in general, and Techno in particular, and it will be even harder for me to add anything new to all that’s been said before. To be honest I don’t know if the duo behind the Basic Channel label and artist name are both responsible for these tracks or whether they are predominantly the work of von Oswald alone. One thing that’s for certain is that the Maurizio compilation is a Stone Cold Classic and should be one of the foundation blocks in any Techno collection. Same goes for Domina, which includes an epic remix by Detroit legend Carl Craig. 

At its core this is minimal dub techno, with slightly more emphasis on the club, than dub. Entirely produced on old school physical hardware, Maurizio uses very simple elements to create something from nothing: hiss and crackle, basic synth tones, dubby reverb and irresistible bass pulse. The melodies, if they can be called that, are so simple but so pleasing I could happily listen to some of these tracks on endless repeat – many of them induce a mood that is paradoxically soothing yet energising. I honestly don’t how it’s possible for so much feeling to be wrought from such minimal sounds – but I suppose it’s that unknowable element that separates good music from truly great music.

Objekt – Cocoon Crush (2018). I’ve always found the term ‘sound design’ a bit wanky and unnecessary but I think it could be fairly and meaningfully applied to Cocoon Crush by Objekt. Berlin-based Brit, TJ Hertz’s early 12 inches featured tracks of garagey-techno aimed squarely at the dancefloor. His sound has come a long way since then, and although some reviews insisted on labelling Cocoon Crush as Techno, I don’t think it can really be described as such. From the gentle pan pipes and sounds of running water, opening track Lost and Found puts me in mind more than anything of mid 90s Future Sound of London, in full on futuristic tribal ambient mode. Strange instruments, samples and organic sounds all interact in a gentle unfolding symphony. Everything is so rich, textured and present in a three dimensional space; some of the little pitter-pattering clicking noises are so crisp they almost sound alive, like an insect chattering in your ear.

Throughout the album, Objekt deftly weaves these vibrant tactile sounds together into curious rhythmic and melodic patterns, that shudder through disparate genres and moods. The squelch of a bassline evoking dubstep one moment, and then the twang of some eastern stringed instrument pulls you into mediaeval Japan. Third track, ’35’ sounds like a mash-up of Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors and the Seinfeld theme tune by way of a pirate radio DJ…from the future.

It’s taken me a little while to get into this album and I wouldn’t recommend it for commute listening – not that anyone is doing any commuting right now. The middle section of the album, culminating in Rest Yr Troubles Over Me gets very ponderous: chimes, drones and a computerised voice interspersed with disorientating rumbles and lurches that never quite coalesce into any discernible rhythm. I don’t mind this kind of unsettling, arhythmic kind of music but I need to be somewhere I can sit down and focus on it, otherwise it can become an irritant. 

So this album demands your attention. But it will reward it. Objekt’s designs are incredibly detailed, each one a miniature microcosm. There’s not much here for the dancefloor (and not much I would describe as Techno) but you can feel the cadences of ‘club’ music, warped into alien shapes. 

Blonde Redhead – Misery is a Butterfly (2004). I listened to 23 by Blonde Redhead a lot last year (Pitchforks’ 50 Best Shoegaze Albums again – not that I’d really describe it as shoegaze but that’s by the by). I don’t think Misery is a Butterfly is quite as good as 23 – the elements of Blonde Redhead’s sound that make that album so good are less in abundance, and the elements that can be grating are more prevalent. The arrangements are more florid – would I even venture, Baroque?? The guitars are picked and plucked and there are more of what might be described as ‘fiddly bits’, whereas 23 is more distortion, chords and angular hardened edges. The vocals on Misery are more prominent in the mix and Kazu Makino’s voice can sometimes come across as whiny, to use an unsophisticated term, as does Simone Pace’s, particularly on Doll is Mine, where it comes out as a piercing bray. But those minor criticisms aside, this is a rich and detailed album (would I even venture, Baroque??) by an interesting and distinctive band.

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