Review: FX Mchn – Isolate EP (Narrow Gauge)

Electronic music’s ongoing need to revisit its own past has been a fairly hit and miss affair. It’s not so much the case that the music – for the most part – is bad, but rather their seems to be a fair amount of conservative thinking involved in the current output. Try as I might, I find it difficult to get excited by shameless aping of classic house and acid, or by regurgitation of loopy millennial techno. As good as these styles were the first (and the second. And the third) time around, and as important as they obviously are both in our history and as an influence on contemporary music, they’re beginning to creek a little bit now. The main problem is a lack of adventure when delving into recent history. Too much shiny, and not enough hidden, muddy gems.

FX Mchn is probably most familiar to fans of the London Housing Trust series of EPs which have been doing the rounds for a couple of years now. He pops up here on Narrow Gauge with his (I think) his proper début. Although the record looks to the past, it’s not the over populated ‘classics’ landscape that catches its eye. In fact, the record largely skips almost all of that, focussing instead on electronica – and other genres – of the pre-house era. For all the name checking this stuff tends to get in some of the more beardy corners of the music press, it doesn’t seem to have put much of a dent in the consciousness of your average house nerd. Sure, there is some stuff out there that draws inspiration from EBM and New Beat; Some are obvious enough, the music of L.I.E.S stalwart Svengalisghost starts from a similar point, although those influences tend to get put through the techno filter a bit more. TX Connect, also, infuses his EBM leanings with acidic grooves, cooking up something fairly modern from past recipes.

The Isolate EP is more measured than either of those examples, but shows a similar desire to more than merely copy the past. The three tracks here are perhaps obvious enough in their influences, but each are contemporary in their feel. As a whole the record is downbeat, maudlin even, the tracks ambling slowly enough to stop the moodiness from evaporating in the mix but without being so pedestrian as to be ponderous. Art2Mouse takes the lead with its gorgeously shimmering and roughed up melody lighting up the crumple and clatter of the beats. The pads are unfurled banners to the synth-heavy experimentalism of the eighties, and they add just the right amount of sweeping, rainy wistfulness to a tune that was already luxuriating in its melancholy. It’s beautiful and involving, made more so by feeling like the theme to a long forgotten European art house flick.

Elsewhere the music feels less fully realised than Art2Mouse, but that isn’t indicative of anything other than a change of pace and style. Mono Life is a slow and icy march; electro carves itself a place here, and a prowling bass stabilizes a subtle eastern feel that gives life to the simple but effectively nervy melody. No Place To Go stalks a similar hinterland to the likes of Silent Servant or Function, a voluminous but airless void filled with the throb of distant life. It might not seem it at first listen, but No Place To Go is the highlight here. Its introduction of a deep and tight groove to the formula, punctuated by fragments of vocals and a bass closer to the post punk creations of Magazine than anything more electronic, usher it forwards. It retains the nervous energy of Mono Life but adds the smallest hint of a twisted grin.