Review: Don’t DJ – Musique Acephale (Berceuse Heroique)

The last couple of weeks have given us a couple of pretty interesting albums to get our teeth into. The first of these, Eomac’s Bedouin Trax, blended ambient and techno with striking north African atmospherics to powerful effect. While the impulse wasn’t exactly new, it showed clearly that there was still life in the idea that electronic music can be experimental and soulful at the same time. That alone makes it worthy of your money in these increasingly musically conservative times.

Don’t DJ’s third long player, Musique Acephale strikes a similar balance between deep electronic excursions and hazy moods, and there are in fact plenty of other similarities between the two releases. While both artists are largely working from differing palettes of sounds, they border each other in terms of cinematic atmospherics where imagery and narrative are shuffled into place, creating worlds and feelings that lie somewhere beyond both the workaday world and the constrictions of clubland.

That makes it sound like Ye Olde Ambient Album, and yes that is certainly part of the attraction, particularly if that’s your bag. I often find myself fairly disinterested in a lot of the ambient stuff I hear – all too often it seems like an excuse to paint pretty, abstract pictures while claiming that they represent some hidden depths of meaning which are rarely actually present when you get past all the aural fluff. But when it does what it’s creators intend, it can be a truly ear opening experience.

Part of what allows Musique Acephale to buck the trend of underwhelming ambience lies in the fact that it is, for all the deft touches and atmospherics, a deeply restrained experience. tunes like Disparata 69 work from a limited box of tricks, fostering a sense not so much of minimal music, but skeletal. What remains within the subtle and bare framework of lilting, almost middle eastern tones, shephards the listener into creating for themselves the framework to add to the bones. Similar skill is deployed on Evolve, a less deliberately empty experience where gently swirling pads accent the ghostly rhythmic touches, once again allowing the listener to bring meaning to life by way of their own introspection.

It’s an approach that doesn’t always come off. A case in point, The Grey Shrine, simply hangs in its own emptiness, evoking something of the self-indulgent noodling that is a professional danger with a lot of more left field electronica.

But The Grey Shrine is not indicative of the rest of the album. And, in fact, some of the strongest work upon Musique Acephale are those which blend the internalized moods with far wider vistas. Evocations in Desert Ruins, Syrian Rue, and the cheeky, half-bop of Fall4 form a trilogy of sorts, united in a sense of time, and place which add bite to their shimmering sounds, and have you thinking of what somebody like Regis might have cooked up if he didn’t seem to be so techno angry all the darn time. That they are, along with the potent, twisting, Polyamory, the best things on the album isn’t chance; each of them offers a different glimpse of the same overarching vision. The rhythmic undercurrents, the tang of alien air, and the feel of unfamiliar heat upon the skin all bring together a vibe that is both deliciously unsettling and very welcoming to the point that Musique Acephale feels like a travelogue documenting a world that can’t really exist.

Restrained, refined, but not without a certain, important, muscularity, this is an album that may well, with a select handful of others, start to remind us that experiences are as important as ideas if we are to get something out of the music, especially if we are to wake up the mind and start thinking about what we are hearing.