Review: John Heckle – Trema (Mathematics Recordings)

Mathematics Recordings and John Heckle have always seemed like a good partnership. Heckle shares a similar approach to music as label head Jamal Moss, and the two have often seemed united in an appreciation not only of the heritage of acid, techno and house, but also where they are going, and in the forms each genre might be coaxed into revealing. Where the two depart is in how far they are willing to push it, With Moss occasionally entering a territory where logic and sense have little weight, and in which the music takes on lurid, surreal shapes that the unsuspecting listener can sometimes find themselves battling with. Mind you, if you released upwards in 700 records a year across a variety of nom-de-plumes you’d probably have a few like that as well.

Heckle’s best work has often come from the blending of a bumptious grade of house with the swirling patterns of high-tech soul and chattering electronics. As one of a shrinking pool of UK-based producers whose delight in Detroit machine Symphonies and primo Chicago jack has always felt a like genuine love affair rather than a hat tip, Heckle’s work has sometimes held him at arm’s length from the rest of the scene, and he remains one of those well kent open secrets electronica seems to specialize in.

Trema moves away from Heckle’s usual stomping grounds for the most part. A broader musical experience, Trema nevertheless feels like a tighter, more introspective trip, and one that makes use of a lightness of touch and tone that reveals a more mellow Heckle than we’ve seen of late. Not that it ever falls into the maudlin shallows of mood music; even in the quietest moments there is a fullness of groove which shores up the inclination to drift, and provides a sterner dance floor focus than you would expect at first listen. The drums accent this superbly. Fluid and loose, they slim down any heaviness, replacing heft with complex, playful arrangements of percussion, and breaking away on occasion onto new paths.

There are moments when Trema falls short; At The Summit for all its prettiness feels empty rather than sparse, and more incidental to the record than it perhaps should. There are ideas there, but the truncated length cuts them down to no more than the tingling sensation you’re missing something. Where The Wild Ones Go draws inspiration from a similar place to some of Carl Craig’s Psyche project, and matches Craig thirst for shimmering light. Yet it never goes beyond those initial impressions, and quickly exhausts itself against its narrow confines.

The real meat of the record, though, lies in the opener and closers. Both Trema and Sun Of U are tremendous tunes, and magnify Heckle’s familiar talents while ushering in a new sensibility. Trema steers closest to vintage Heckle; Sweeps of synths and soulful melodies lend it the hazy colouring of UR at their most chilled, and the drums are given more room to pound and latch onto the funk. Underneath, though, the soundscape writhes with little touches of frequency which snatch out a sharper and less relaxed vibe which grows in importance as the track unfolds.

When I first heard snippets of Sun Of U last year, I was impressed by how different it sounded to anything else I’d recently heard. Now I get a chance to listen to the whole thing that impression has strengthened. scampering grooves, propelled by a rickety break beat, and doused with uplifting synths, bring to mind Meatbeat Manifesto’s meticulously realized sound but with a greater sense of adventure, particularly in the way one movement will suddenly give way to another, altering the mood without giving up any of the vibe. It may feel like a laidback and subtle piece, but it is always on the move, fluctuating and morphing as the storytelling unfolds up top. Inventive, experimental and dedicated to the groove, this is John Heckle on top form. I hope there’s more like it in 2016.