Konx Om Pax’s last release on Planet Mu, the album Caramel, was a kaleidoscope of fractured electronic dreams and one sharpened by shard-like memories of rave filtered through the static of ancient tapes. It was a quietly, thrillingly, disorienting experience which captured something of the essence of a long-lost scene without recourse to burned out samples or slavish homage. In doing so it came closer than most to evoking the hazy dissonance of rave’s undoubted impact.
It wouldn’t be entirely accurate to describe Refresher as a follow-up, although it certainly has that going for it in many senses. Musically its world’s apart; Where Caramel haunted the edges and fed flickering ideas into your mind Refresher pushes upwards and outwards, and is a far less spectral affair. At the same time it holds closely its predecessor’s ability to surprise and beguile, and it does so with a ready expansion of ideas and textures.
While the dreamlike memories of rave are still present, they are presented in what can almost be described as part of a wider history, and no longer form the music’s central core, except, perhaps, as a shifting and ethereal spirit at the very heart of the tunes. The two original tracks here, Cascada and Species With Amnesia, are shorn of much of Caramel’s smoky experimentalism, swapping it for tantalizing glimpses of an even more complete philosophy. Cascada is by far the most direct and accessible tune from either record, a rolling, 4/4 locked tune which pumps out day-glo melodies and thick, hefty, riffs constructed from strobes and smiles. It’s a real melting pot of influences, running from foundational Detroit to a slightly tongue-in-cheek moodiness which hovers somewhere just off Daft Punk’s flair for connecting the most radio friendly of sounds with grade-A grooves while pitching the whole towards a shifting acid house vibe. It’s probably the happiest tune you’ll hear this year, and its sense of sweat-drenched, hands-in-the-air abandonment is more authentic than a truckload of contemporary ‘rave’ with their carefully applied make up.
Species with Amnesia is less cheery. A very different beast, it’s slower, heavier, and moodier. It exchanges Cascada’s organic thrills for something more mechanical, the ghosts in the machine swapped for machine ghosts. It also rather wonderfully, evokes an even earlier time, and the electronica is of an ever more primitive era; beyond acid or rave, even before house in fact. There is a bluntness deep inside which feels rather 70’s. Not blandly disco either, or even italo, but the first steps of post-punk towards something larger. Wrapped up there, in the midst of its discordant yet subtle melodies and pulsing bass is a chip of which reminds me so heavily of Magazine’s bleak and beautifully daunting soundscapes I can’t listen without imagining Howard Devoto’s voice scowling and frowning somewhere in the background.
The remixes are a less complete experience than these two originals, but both bring different colours to the palette. U-ziq’s mix of Caramel captures a lot of the original’s haunting fragility, but adds a beguiling airiness to it while mounting it on a plinth set in clouds and drawing on previously undiscovered hues with which to paint fresh muscle on the rebuilt bones.
Huerco S’ reworking of Beatrice’s Visit is a long, misty ambient piece that swirls around the original’s wistful energy but never comes close enough to its playfulness. Where U-Ziq’s mix embraces and toys with Caramel’s rich ideas, this skirts the thinking. It’s pretty, certainly, but feels as if it’s holding the original at too great a distance.
So, not a follow-up, I don’t think. Rather, Refesher is an examination of the same themes from a different direction. Looser, more aware not only of those same themes but their place in a deeper context, it’s a smart addition and a bright companion to the original’s dusky grace.