Review: Gunnar Haslam – Ataxia No Logos (Delsin)

Since making his début with the exceptional Mimesiak LP on Long Island Electrical Systems last year Gunnar Haslam has been a frustratingly difficult figure to pin down with regards to both his irregular output and his quality. Where Mimesiak was an eye-opening mix of tribal rhythms and synthetic symphonics which showed particularly precocious promise, much of his body of work since then has failed to live up to those original high standards. A so so release for Argot and an infuriatingly slight 12″ for L.I.E.S, plus a drab collaboration with Tin Man under the guise of Romans comprises the bulk of his post album work.

Part of the problem lies not with his talent or his skill with arrangement, but in a lack of genuine feeling. Too often Haslam’s grand musical gestures have felt curiously lacking an emotional anchor; they feel locked into a framework built by logic and an academic approach to sound rather than any sense of what would make the music come alive. While his technique often bears a resemblance to the finely crafted music of Huerco S or Austin Ceasar, much of the fun in their work is derived from finding pleasure in their sense of the ethereal: they believe in the ghosts within the machines. I’m not sure Haslam does. Certainly not since Mimesiak.

Ataxia No Logos would seem to be an opportunity for the New York Producer to get back down to it on a label that has often understood the need for experimentalism alongside more basic dance floor fare. While it doesn’t entirely wipe away the memory of that more recent work, it does go some way to showing us another side of Haslam. It’s a side worth examining. Although there are many tropes in common with his other records, the haunting pads, the disconnected, echoing percussion for example, the result is a release that seems much more focussed in its intent.

Corridor Metaphysics is the most obvious link to his recent material, and perhaps because of that its the most pedestrian of the tracks on offer. A scattered kick drum, rolling like an irregular heartbeat, guides some of his trademark synths over the pulsed throb of a room shaking bass. It’s pretty but dry, sounding like a tune from a lost 90s IDM record. As lush as the musicality is, it once again suffers from a lack of any overt emotion.

The title track, Ataxia No Logos, though, is a different beast and one that comes at you from a very different direction. It’s a return to the muscular moments found occasionally on Mimesiak. A surly, menacing machine snarl that whips in and out of the mix. It’s never hard, never fast, but its trick is in the way it’s bite is restrained, like a hungry Doberman in a cage just waiting for that one moment of opportunity to get its revenge. It sounds so much more assured that one wonders exactly what else Haslam has been hiding away from us.

Dunsinane Hill further wrong foots. It’s another direction entirety, an aquatic and psychotropic trip of cinematic House that washes over you with a soulful and lazy 70s vibe. What is most evident, though, is the playfulness, the sense of fun and adventure. Musically there is nothing much to it: Jazzy percussion, a three chord riff that holds the line in velveteen style and a repeated vocal snatch. It’s by far the strongest thing Haslam has done in a long time, particularly in the way it achieves what French House legend Ludovic Navarre used to manage so effortlessly – evoke nostalgia for a musical world and heritage that never actually existed.

Discrete Markov Dub ups the tempo whilst wrapping everything in a baggy, dubby suit. It retains Dunsinane Hills playfulness (if not it’s sense of adventure and invention). It’s mostly par for the course Dub, but dub on steroids. This, of course, is always welcome for we all know how dull dub can be when played by the rules. It wobbles along, surprisingly forcefully, with its tongue firmly in its cheek. And who would have expected that? An interesting and inventive release from a mercurial talent. Lets see what comes next.