Metroplex’s quiet ‘relaunch’ over the last couple of years doesn’t seem to have caught the imagination of the Peanut Gallery in quite the way I thought it might. Even though there have been a gang of new releases on the label – running from last year’s Shifting Forward by new boy Plural to alleged retiree Terrance Dixon’s Population One, and including a forthcoming 12″ by Kimyon – most of the talk seems to have been about possible represses following the re-release of Model 500’s The Chase and Night Drive. You can’t really fault people for that: A label like Metroplex, with such a large and incredibly important back catalogue is always going to attract massive interest should it start revisiting the classics.
Power to Juan Atkins, though, for refusing to go down the easy route and simply stick out hunners of old stuff. Any label that does that quickly looses any vitality it once had, and Metroplex’s rare energy was always one of the most distinguished factors in its importance. It almost seems a bit cruel, therefore, to suggest that the new music hasn’t quite yet come up to those old standards. Not that there is anything wrong with what has been available so far – and on almost any other label they would all be regarded as Triple A belters. But this isn’t any other label: this is Metroplex.
Arnold Steiner’s Mood Sequence EP comes closer than either the Plural or Population One records in recalling all the thrills that made the older Metroplex material so damn good. In fact, it came close enough for one person I know, upon hearing a clip of the record, to exclaim ‘Yup. Sounds Like Metroplex.’ There is an understandable ring of truth in that statement. It does sound like Metroplex, more precisely the sort of tough, techno-bass styled electro the label did so well in the late nineties when the genre looked to be on an unstoppable upwards trajectory.
Mood Sequence isn’t just a simple homage to that era though. The music, although coming from a similar place, is less frenetic, less likely to fry your brain with burst of pure velocity and smash you with explosive beats, and while it remains as tough as always, it tends to go about it in a slightly different way.
Partly this is due to a widening of the traditional techno-bass remit, and elements of the record lean closer to a more European take on electro, even as far as incorporating an industrial, EBM-ish tinge here and there. The effect isn’t overpowering, more of a subtle re-weaving of the base fabric, but it adds a different heft to the music. It’s particularly evident on Inertia Collision , a tune which swaps out the swagger of the rest of the record for something altogether more prowling. In fact, it almost entirely moves away from it heartlands, incorporating motifs and moods which lie closer to the sort of thing Luke Eargoggle, Mr Velcro Fastener, and others of the new electro elite have been working with.
Even so, the real meat of the record still lies within a far more traditional Detroit-ish take on the genre. Opener In The End is a classy stab in the Model 500 vein. Sleek, dark, and utterly entrancing in the groove, and with lyrics which alternate between menacing and wistful, it fulfils that need all Metroplex’s fans have for some proper midnight funk. Steiner has done a great job of somehow giving it a far more contemporary feel. The shadows are deepened, the bass full and effective without confusing heaviness for impact. Mood Sequence itself glides along a similar but incrementally darker flight path. It lacks the machine soul of In The End’s vocals, but the colossal wobbling bass and howl of synths latch on to something primal, heightening atmospherics and blotting out the unnecessary. In its own growling way it’s probably the furthest from what you might expect – a claustrophobic, condensed, scouring blast of sound.
For anyone unused to or uninterested in Metroplex’s sound, there may not be much here to change minds: ‘Yep, it sounds like Metroplex’ is indeed the truth, and for many people, even way back, the mix of abstract expressions and thunderous, street level beats is in stark contrast to a lot of more contemporary sounds. But for the rest, that pat statement, and everything it represents can be taken as a battle cry of sorts. Arnold Steiner delivers a record which stands apart from much of what else is going on at the moment and stands as a worthy successor to a shining tradition. No sound clips for this one. Go and buy it.