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Electronic/Dance - Released October 26, 2018 | Versatile Records
Electronic/Dance - Released | Versatile Records
Dance - Released October 4, 2009 | Domino Recording Co
Despite having one album of Kraut-horror-disco (as half of the duo Zombie Zombie) and one well-received 12" (Repeat Again After Me) under his belt, Etienne Jaumet came to his debut solo full-length still a relative newcomer and a self-described outsider to the world of electronica. Perhaps that explains why it stands out as such a fresh and distinct piece of work, well removed from any obvious contemporary electronic trends. Historical reference points for the album, sonically and structurally, include early Detroit techno, the "kosmische musik" of Manuel Göttsching and Klaus Schulze, and perhaps, on a more fundamental, conceptual level, the minimalism of Steve Reich -- of course, these are seminal and inevitable touchstones for all electronic music, certainly including the entire minimal techno wave of the 2000s and especially the late-decade revival of cosmic (neo-)disco and the like. But Jaumet manages to incorporate these influences in a refreshingly pure, direct way, crafting a sincere homage to oft-elided originators while avoiding the pitfalls of mere stylistic mimicry, in part, through his unusual use of organic instrumental sounds and elements of free jazz. Night Music is a significant title, appropriately evocative yet non-specific: this is unquestionably dark music, redolent in particular of urban and somewhat seedy nocturnal activity, and it would lose much of its power and cogency if exposed to sunlight. The track names do suggest a more precise programmatic conceit of a single night's journey through sleep and dreams, but this is hardly a restful affair. As hypnotic as it is, "For Falling Asleep" -- the album's 20-minute opener, centerpiece, and statement of purpose -- would be nearly impossible to actually sleep to, and would seem to portend, at best, highly troubled dreams. The track, built on a constant yet constantly shifting arpeggiated analog synth figure, sometimes accompanied by hissy, wobbly beatbox percussion, glides through a gradually evolving soundscape populated by unobtrusively ominous synth pads, eerie wordless female voices, and a haze of noodly saxophones -- only giving way in its final minutes to a curious, beatless liminal space where, of all things, a deftly plucked harp crops up, coexisting somewhat queasily with still-menacing synth swells. It's a small moment of repose after an exhausting but majestic journey of seemingly endless unfolding, but it's a necessary palate-cleanser, because from there we plunge directly into "Mental Vortex," which rides a sturdier, robotic Detroit groove and a taut, entrancing four-note synth riff into progressively squelchier territory. The album grows marginally calmer, if not necessarily gentler, as it proceeds -- the briefer "Entropy" once again features an insistent synth bass ostinato, but it's more spacious, almost funky, while "Through the Strata," a disquieting drone-based piece dominated by the unexpected and not entirely harmonious sound of a hurdy-gurdy, is propelled only by an intermittent kick drum pulse. Finally, "At the Crack of Dawn" is beatless but throbbing, a study in vague but unremitting tension generated primarily by a clutch of dense, sleazy saxes. It's striking stuff -- definitely not easy listening, but well worth the effort, even if it feels like a slightly lopsided affair, with the final four tracks overshadowed by one terrifically effective and truly inventive epic. ~ K. Ross Hoffman
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