Review: Morphology – Frozen State (Vortex Traks)

One of the very few things that has kept me relatively sane during 2016’s endlessly craptactular horror show is the way in which electro has begun, finally, to reassert itself on a scene increasingly dependant on the conventional. While it is true that electro ‘never went away’ and has always bubbled away under the well-sailed surface, you would have to be pretty disingenuous to pretend that the genre’s current popularity isn’t beginning to take it into new arenas. Personally speaking, as someone who has been very much into it for a very long time, I think 2016 has been at least as important, if not more so, than its previous mid nineties high water mark, particularly when you factor in the way that the music is now truly embracing new and differing facets of sound, textures, and themes which are allowing it to grow and evolve.

Morphology’s take on this evolution has frequently aimed itself towards a deepening and darkening of the genre. That in itself is nothing new, being a strand in the scene which runs back some 20+ years. But where Morphology perhaps differ is that their music hasn’t gone down a one way street. As internalized as some of their tunes feel, and as claustrophobic, there has always been a mix of competing emotions which help elevate the sound beyond the basic patterns. Frequently Morphology break away from pure electro, bringing the wider soundscapes and philosophies of IDM in to play, and making corrections in texture and meaning with the help of ambient flourishes. Cinematic is often a word bandied around with such music, but here is feels pretty fitting.

Frozen State itself is an interesting choice of title for the EP. While a certain iciness has often been central to Morphology’s sound, it is less prominent across this release. Where in the past there were blasts of winter, things have been warmed up. An acidic energy infuses the four tracks here, ratcheting up the grooves and providing a springboard into the swirling darkness. On occasions, such as in the depths of Linear Fractures the bubbling lines of the 303s entwine with the frigid crackle of the percussion, recalling for a moment the pulse of old material by The Martian. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the themes of space exploration encased in the track titles, this nod to alien techno informs a lot of music, and the way it kicks and buckles in zero gravity.

The A side in particular takes these themes and the music’s new-found heat to pack a lot of energy into the tunes. Frozen State draws on familiar vibes, a charging, slanted groove where bass twists in and out of the shadows below a tight, fast breakbeat. It’s thoroughly modern electro, using changes of energy and direction to foster an atmosphere of dance floor meanness without recourse to aural aggression. The best electro has always pulled similar tricks, using weaves of sound and tone to unsettle and build. Morphology nail it here. Polar Wander, in comparison, is heavier, a micron slower, and wrapped up with ghostly pads and thick with a juicy bass. Even so, it avoids an overt dark side vibe and gets its head down instead, morphing itself into a deadly plateaux of acid electro.

Of all the tracks though, only the wistful, playful and haunting Europa opens itself fully to those older IDM influences. It makes a symphony out of clanking noises, a party out of gentle machines doing their own thing. It slightness shouldn’t mark it out as lightweight however. Once you get down into its circuits there is a beautiful, other-worldly sense of drama here, which, in actual fact, is true for the rest of the EP as well. More evidence that Morphology are leading the genre by example. A great ending to their year.