Review: VC-118A – Propulse (Tabernacle)

I’ve decided that it’s Electro Week around here. My much hoped for electro revival seems to be taking its time in getting up a head of steam, which is just about typical of that most wonky of genres, so I’ve decided to help it along and plead its case. God knows it’s about time someone did. There aren’t enough people digging through some of the weird and wicked records that are out there for my liking. let’s get that sorted.

Whether or not Tabernacle, or even VC-118A, see ‘Propulse’ as purely electro (or even whether I do) is kind of beside the point. It’s not a record rich in the traditional genre tropes; the breaks are too angular, and too alien in their construction. It’s music predicated on emotion and disorientation rather than anything too dancefloor. It is a very modern take on this precursor to electronica, and the way it blends in the heft of techno and frosts it all with the cold touch of dark ambience points to a heritage of IDM and a shared affinity not only with some of the more interesting sounds from labels like Giegling, but with the contemporary tech-tribal feel of Semantica – a label itself responsible for some damn fine electro.

Propulse itself is a cold funk reaction; slithering into being on the slow hump of its groove, it takes the skyward gaze of Drexciya and pulls it back down into a darkened, bombed out hinterland where malformed and dangerous things play and scurry. For all its pervading sense of foreboding, once it locks on it has more than enough to make it a dangerous dance floor killer. Its real power lies in the steamy pads and the mournful call of the synths.

Its remix, by fellow Tabernacle alumni Lost Traxx, reworks the haunting thrill of the original into something more precise and drapes it with coils of cosmic acid while kicking the breaks forward. Part Plastikman at his otherworldy best, it’s heady and trancey in the best of ways. Eschewing easy tricks and clatter, it constantly feeds back into itself, looping the acid around you and pulling it tight.

It’ll be those two tracks that most gravitate towards – and that would be deserved – but I hope it doesn’t lead people to overlook the other half of the release. Both Central Zone and Virile Frame are more difficult propositions but probably even more rewarding. Central Zone , in particular, is a long moment of clicks and grunts that makes a virtue of its heavy abstraction. That it feels disconnected from the rest of the record by way of its spikiness is a plus, I think, providing a counterpoint to the thick grooves of the two Propulses. Virile Frame also feels a bit of an outsider, but in a different way. It’s the most open of the four tracks, slicing at the heart of a long vanished tradition of European electro experimentalism and offsetting its coldness with little melodic touches of grace.

Not electro as your dad might remember it, for sure, but as a keen-eyed contemporary take on the genre I doubt there will be many better examples this year. Deep, frequently unsettling, and a damn site more useful than pretending Kraftwerk is still the future.

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