Review: People At Work: In The Office (Talahachi)

In a certain light it’s possible to see this latest volume of Talahachi’s run of eclectic samplers as something of a companion piece to the Boe Recordings offering we reviewed the other night. Both explore the more musical end of the techno spectrum where melody and shade is preferred over heavy beats and noise, both trade on an expansive use of tone and texture, and both are replete with artists for whom the sounds of classic Detroit, IDM, and early 90s electronica are still as relevant as any contemporary influences.

If anything, People At Work moves slightly further from the dancefloor than Halal Prepared did, and although there are definite moments (the two Stephen Lopkin tracks in particular – more on that in a minute) that work a deep and affecting groove, the emphasis is on deep, dreamy music that captures the essence of a strand of electronica that has been in short supply. This year has really been one of rediscovery, and a desire to rework older blueprints into newer designs. The resurgence of IDM influenced techno – although never as barren a field as some others – has been an interesting, if slightly understated, break from the host of acid, classically sounding house and one note bangers currently infesting the scene.

People At Work is at its best when the rhythms and the moods are in alignment, the wash of synths and the carefully crafted melodies and frills backed up by something more solid. In a sense this is entirely in keeping with what we have been talking about because when you look back, one of the striking facets of 90’s IDM and ambient techno was that their magic was predicated as much on carefully crafted grooves as complex sonic worlds, even though that tends to be forgotten a lot of the time nowadays. It’s a theme that surfaces repeatedly here. On Invitation Au Voyage’s ethereal Radian, for example, the quiet dusky swell of the synths harness the collapsing and lazy break beat to emphasise the deep wave of mood. On John Hill’s Hyvern the melodies are backed with the muted chatter of percussion and the bubble of a housey bass which lends it the feel of a quiet, internalized rave; subtle Balearic chills echoing the warm nothingness of being lost in a long moment of simple reflection.

I’ve been a fan of Stephen Lopkin’s work for a while now, taking particular delight in the way he moulds his first wave Detroit influences into something complex and modern. The brace of graceful, warm-funked movers on offer here don’t disappoint. Part of his spell weaving comes from the fact that he wears his tastes on his sleeve and yet never leaves you entirely sure what the starting point is. Both Dos and Terms And Condition Apply push the beats further forward, allowing a certain amount of cheek and rowdiness to colour the delicate weaves of his synths and pads. Terms And Conditions is possibly the pick of the two for the way it adds the chirp of a 303 to the mix to play off the melodies. It’s quite beautiful, and memorable for the way it simply burrows into your brain.

I’ve occasionally found previous Talahachie volumes a little light on any actual oomph; an emphasis on swirl and glitter doesn’t always come off when the beats are controlled or a mite on the glacial side. That’s just me, though, and in People At Work: In The Office there is a sense of the fragile fabrics of sound being fitted to a more organic body to a more interesting effect than previously. A classy addition to the new wave of deeper techno that’s beginning to find its feet.

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