Review: 214 – Fuel Cells (CPU Records)

Listening again recently to 214’s album from last year, North Bend, I was increasingly aware that my first impressions of it were perhaps a little off. I thought it a great album, but hadn’t really picked up on some of the little things that made it so: the shifts of mood for instance, or the harder edge which lurked under the record’s veneer of almost cinematic emotion. And I never rally paid attention to the ways in which it moved between facets of electro, almost creating a narrative which encompassed the last 25 years of the genre’s evolution.

CPU records have been at the fore of electro’s changed fortunes over the last few years, and forged themselves an enviable stable of talent and a house sound that has as much to do with the broad experimentalism of IDM and braindance as it does with anything that came out of New York in the 80’s. That sound in particular has become increasingly important to the scene, and while it may not have come to define what modern electro is (not quite yet anyway) there is little doubt that the blending of older-school influences with a blossoming, almost orchestral, deepness has reinvigorated the genre’s sound without softening any of its abstract energy.

What was surprising about Fuel Cells on first listen, then, was its directness. Largely stripped of the modern accoutrement of symphony, pushing towards a sound that has its roots in Detroit’s techno bass, Fuel Cells feels like it’s on a mission to restore electro’s visceral energy to a place of prominence and to swap the grand statements for one far more taciturn. In some ways 214 revisits similar vistas as those on North Bend, and anyone familiar with that album will recognize the echo of atmosphere, and the tight drums which marshal the looser vibe up top. But beyond that, the music feels more willing to abandon careful craftsmanship in a bid to get the blood pumping.

Opener Overbridge stalks an almost classically electro soundscape of taut arpeggios and rasping bass, part Detroit, part northern European in soul, and scatters the tune with diffuse light as it grows more sure of itself. It does take a while to unwind and properly reveal its meaning, but the final transition from workout to groove is almost imperceptible, the track slowly locking it down as the energy levels increase. Fuel Cells is less eager to play with its form. Almost straight away it descends into spikier territory, the sort of place Carl Finlow or Dez Williams seem to have been hanging around and getting up to no good in recently. Acidic and dark, it rolls with the gaunt, raw, vibe of a true dance floor bomb.

And while Keep Right, with its wonderful Direct Beat bop and thunder, and its wistful IDM’y melody or Greenbelt’s spiralling, claustrophobic air and tight twisting beats, delve into different areas in much the same way as North Bend did, Fuel Cells feels a more unified record. Obviously a sense of continuity is easier to achieve across four tracks than eight or twelve, but that’s really not what I mean. What brings all the tracks together, regardless of the atmosphere they create or the energy they feed on, is the sense that they are all built first and foremost for what they can do to a dancefloor. Fuel Cells is a record of body music, of grooves which will come to life most authentically on a dancefloor in the darkness and humidity of a Friday night. While it doesn’t eschew entirely the contemporary sense of painting across a bigger canvas, it draws its life from what it will do to you at two in the morning when the sweat is broiling you alive.