Not even six weeks into the new year and already the damn stack is growing unwieldy. It’s like a tower of Babel except somehow more confusing. And less useful. So here is my first room clearing exercise of 2017. God I hope it’s the last.
Hi and Saberhägen – Belters002 (Belters)
There has always been something about this Edinburgh based duo I’ve never been able to put a finger on. These days I usually find myself shying away from the slower, more carefully engineered end of house and techno in favour of something dirtier, but I’ve always found Hi and Saberhägen’s blend of open space, simple seeming moods, and laconic movement to be captivating in a way I don’t always find with a lot of contemporary electronica.
Appearing here on Huntley and Palmers’ newish offshoot Belters, the EP reaches out for a slow-paced, largely experimental vibe which further emphasises the duo’s sleepy atmospherics. But while this is fine for an occasional amble, across the whole EP the deliberately frayed threads begin to unravel a little bit too much, and a disjointed air begins to creep in. It lacks, straight off, the tighter focus of their record on Proibito from last year, where the penchant for a dreamy wonkiness was held in check by the tribal overtones, nor does it contain anything as memorable as the quietly beautiful and gently playful Peanut Butter from their first release.
When it does come together though, such as on the warm and sun-speckled opener Good Deeds, or in the wide open and oriental tinged My Parallel a sense of purpose begins to pervade, drawing together the loose moods and themes into something that leaves you hanging in a dappled space full of hazy, smiling shapes. And although the overall sense is of things never quite coming off the way they were intended, you are still left aware that at very least there is an attempt at doing something distinctly different going on.
Sync 24 – Ten Year Electronics (Cultivated Electronics)
Sync 24 plays on the current taste for VA samplers with a 4 tracks featuring himself and various collaborators to celebrate a decade of electro from his label Cultivated Electronics. This isn’t some nod to contemporary trends though, for Phillip Bolland has often worked with partners to great effect over the years.
What’s more interesting, perhaps, is the absence of even so much as a nod to the modern love of either the deep, aquatic breed of electro, or it’s synthwavey inspired cousin, which are currently so in vogue. Each of the tracks here are from the rougher side of the tracks. Harder, tighter, occasionally soaked in skin-frying acid, they simultaneously hark back to a an older time while taking delight in their cutting edge potency. On Wave ID for instance, alongside Jensen Interceptor, they angle a radio-blast of acid inward, winding things up further with an, empty, bleeped out melody that coaxes a frost to develop between the beats. The combination of its almost techno-bass brashness and Eletro-noir sultriness sends it into orbit.
It’s a theme which recurs, an overriding sense of the ways in which electro can toy with you on both an intellectual and visceral level. And the feel of techno-bass being rebooted for the new millenium is even more apparent elsewhere. On We Animate, alongside Steve Allman, the duo bang the box with sharp beats, rubbery acid bass and thumb-squeezed bursts of colour. The sliver of percussive vocal lending even more to the vibe. With Radioactiveman, Eliptical cloaks the movement in a storm of interconnected flashes of light and shadow, evoking an even more old-school feel blended with spinning, psychedelia, one minute fierce, the next, almost hypnotically barren, the subtlest of movements atop a snarling breakbeat.
Best of the lot is perhaps Tri-gate, which is interesting as Sync 24’s partner in crime here is Truss – an artist not necessarily known for electro. It’s the simplest tune on offer, de-constructing the offering to the point of pure functionalism where the entire tune is dominated by the buckling bass line and a break beat which is just about slow enough to allow the breathless room to catch up. Where the other tracks thunder, this one prowls through a claustrophobic space which occasionally widens into a broken landscape of midnight light. It’s an utter cracker, and a masterclass in anxious, fluid funk. 10 years down and you get the feeling Cultivated Electronics are now just getting going.