There’s something unsettling about the cover image for Cocoon Crush that’s hard to put your finger on. Maybe it’s the lurking suspicion that some of those water droplets are in fact sets of eyes, staring back at you. Then there’s the initial double-take factor – is it a plant? a sea creature? At the wrong sideways glance, the combination of orbs and tendrils could resemble some kind of venomous spider. It’s apt then, that the music contained within is similarly unsettling; as well as being beguiling, enticing and, like a multi-legged arthropod, moving in unexpected ways.
Although Objekt’s initial 12″ releases of breaksy techno were aimed squarely at the dancefloor, it was clear from the lythe production and off-kilter elements that this was a producer more interested in the mind-expanding potential of sound design, than the purely physical requirements of keeping a dance floor in motion. Also known as TJ Hertz, the Berlin-based Brit’s debut album, Flatland, took this interpretation of techno further into the leftfield. But Cocoon Crush is another beast entirely. Upon its release, many reviews seemed to insist on approaching it as a techno record, but it’s something altogether different – the sound of experimentation and exploration, unconstrained by the boundaries of genre.
Experiencing Cocoon Crush is like being guided on a journey through a tropical Zen garden or a botanical hot house. Somewhere teaming with life, exotic plants and dazzling flowers blooming from every surface, and an intricate network of fountains and streams trickling through the undergrowth, filling the air with moisture. The atmosphere is dense and almost overpowering at times; on opening track Lost and Found, myriad tiny details rapidly burst forth to compete for your attention, like a swarm of multi-coloured butterflies suddenly taking flight.
It’s a richly psychedelic introduction and the presence of various ‘new age’ sounds (woodwind pipes, plucked strings, trickling water, etc) encourages an obvious comparison with the Future Sound of London. But where FSOL tend to build their tracks on an epic scale – with sweeping vistas of imagined/alternative worlds – Objekt takes us down to the bizarre alien life that exists at the micro-scale. As the various slippery elements wriggle through the mix, it feels like peering under a large rock, with a grim fascination as to what one might find lurking beneath.
Describing an album as ‘a journey’ is pretty cliched, but it’s justified in the case of Cocoon Crush. Rather than travelling from A to B however, this is a journey from Lost to Found. Clearly signposted by the fact the first and final tracks are both entitled ‘Lost and Found’, (the Lost Mix and Found Mix, respectively). Unfortunately, the album does lose its way entirely during the middle, where Hertz seems to indulge his experimental tendences a little too heavily. Sometimes a meandering detour can make arriving at your final destination all the sweeter. And I’m usually more than happy to take the scenic route and forgive the inclusion of a few aimless interludes. But this is taken to an unnecessary extreme on Cocoon Crush.
After the opening three tracks, all of which are dazzling in their complexity and variation, things slump into a stupor. The reverberating thumps and clangs interspersed with the odd pitch-bent chime that comprise Nervous Silk induce the feeling of being trapped inside a grandfather clock while someone carries out repair work on the mechanism. With the clock not working, time seems to stand still – which would be OK if the feeling of limbo-like suspense that builds up led to some kind of payoff.
The album’s real nadir comes with Rest Yr Troubles Over Me, an extended experiment into the tension-inducing qualities of attack and delay, punctuated by zaps of silence. In a different context a track like this could work, but its effect on Cocoon Crush is to suck the life and energy from proceedings. Maybe that was Objekt’s intention, as he uses the following couple of tracks to gradually rebuild the pace, on Runaway re-assembling his orchestra of chirruping mini-beasts to chatter atop a roving bassline and misfiring electro drum machines.
The album’s final third would’ve been an opportunity for the various tensions that have been built up to be resolved, for the various knots to be untied – and for us to go from being lost to being found. Unfortunately it’s not quite that simple, and Hertz can’t resist putting a few stings in the tail. I wonder if this tendency – to continually jolt the listener with bursts of noise and incursions of friction into his smoothly unfolding textures – is a way of warding off comparisons with artists of a more cheesily psychedelic bent.
The labyrinthian Secret Snake takes the listener down many twists and turns, until the explosion of a distinctly ‘eastern’ sounding synth and bubbling acid line, when for a moment you could swear you were listening to a Shpongle record. No doubt Hertz is aware that a whiff of anything remotely resembling ‘psybient’ is an instant turn off for the hardcore IDM-heads, who are surely his core audience. As let’s face it, despite the odd sprinkling of new-ageism throughout Cocoon Crush, it’s far too unpredictable and jarring a record for an after-hours poi and changa session.
As someone who counts that kind of psychedelic music as a guilty pleasure, I would’ve been happy for the ‘found mix’ of Lost and Found to play us out without the bursts of white noise, which basically sound like some be-ketted raver falling into the equipment and pulling all the wires out. Total vibe-kill, dude.
So despite the promise of resolution – when the pan pipes that set the scene at the start of the album return for its close – at the end of Cocoon Crush you’re left somewhat confused. Confused by what you just witnessed, confused how we got from there to here, confused about what kind of record this is – too busy and complex to be techno, too coarse and juddering to be to be psychedelic. Yet although not all his experiments come off, in Cocoon Crush Objekt has created something distinctly unusual, that defies easy categorisation.