The German duo of Jay Ahern and Stefan Schneider have been making deep and oddly compelling techno as the Hauntologists for a while now. Across 5 EPs they’ve managed with some success to reclaim the concept of minimal techno, even reclaiming it (to an extent) from its contemporary emasculation where it has become synonymous with a sort of bland tech-house, as empty of art as it is meaning.
For an act I’ve always thought of as precise and sometimes a little dry – despite a certain playfulness – the album actually introduces something of a new feel to their music. While it is inarguably what you might expect from the Hauntologists – tight regimented rhythms, thick palettes of carefully curated frequency and a slightly academic approach to techno that often feels a little disconnected from true emotional appeal – it manages to feel like a fuller and more rounded sound. While I’m not sure I’d completely buy the supposed influence of African street music on the album (a result, apparently, of Schneider’s years making field recordings in East Africa) there are little touches introduced to the rhythmic spring that render things more sprightly than usual, certainly over their last couple of EPs which didn’t quite match the promise of their earliest work.
For the most part any differences are tonal rather than structural, and the overarching aesthetic that has come to define the Hauntologists’ work remains untroubled. It’s a good album; slick, slinky and fun in a laid back sort of way, but it’s one that comes to life when a bit of moodiness lights a fire under its arse. Occasional introductions of rawer elements to the music elevate proceedings further. The reworking of Brooklyn from 2013’s Haunts 10″ adds an acidic frisson to the tune which, along with the heavier percussion, kickstarts the track into a grumpy skank and moves it away from the original’s sleepy-eyed shuffle. Wistful’s mad scientist electronica seems rather ephemeral at first, like an unfinished sketch included for the sake of completeness. Given half a chance, though, the balance between playfulness and drama becomes more apparent. It is and will always be slight, but it carries itself with a cheeky aplomb which makes up for its shortcomings.
The best tunes push beyond the regular formula and introduce a looseness to the music that helps propel it. On Hush those African influences are more evident, especially in the melodic drive of the bass which introduces a more organic atmosphere and provides a deep foundation which allows the other elements to build a grittier and welcome funk. It’s a definite highlight of the album; beautifully paced, not so much building as coming to life slowly, and bubbling with warmth and cheek.
And that is probably at the heart of the appeal of both the album and the Hauntologists themselves, that mix between the precision and the playful. Funnily enough, it’s a trait they share with another German act, Hardfloor, although in Hauntologists’ case the delineation between the two mindsets is perhaps a little more muddied than with the Harthouse duo. It’s a maturation of a strand of the minimal ethos that moves away from ideas of space and sound into more complex areas where textural patterns and tonal progressions are allowed to bloom. While I’m not sure it’s an album you can love, it is certainly likeable, even more so for the fact that the strangely compelling vibe which soaks so deeply into all of their work remains an ever-present and important facet of their art.