Tuesday, December 16, 2003
Alexander Kowalski - Response
Some people like the very knowledgable Siegbran on ILX are saying this is the techno album of the year, and perhaps of any year. Like I would know! But it's really excellent, even if it sounds more like dubby tech-house to me, albeit of an occasionally more urgent strain - imagine MRI's first album or SCSI-9 on a low-level dose of steroids. Hi-hats positively sizzle, the bass glows menacingly, the synth patterns run round your head with jittery abandon. The slightly increased tempo and more upfront physicality that results from the emphasis of the "tech" in the tech-house equation makes this sound refreshingly climactic in contrast to microhouse's slower and more subtle pleasures. There's something gloriously anthemic about tunes like "Response", whose dubby overlays and swirling melodic effects are by now familiar but rarely deployed with such tense stridency. For that reason, while Response seems quite similar in both style and consistency to SCSI-9's Digital Russian, I've found it much more compelling listening.

But Kowalski is also adept in locating his softcore center, and I adore his softer melodic diversions. "Belo Horizonte" is shimmering and sensuous detroit techno like nothing since "Jaguar", all lush overlapping bleepy melodies and sensititve latin percussion in the background. It kinda reminds me of prog house too, but in a good way! I've always had a soft spot for Spooky's "Little Bullet". Meanwhile vocal tracks "Lock Me Up" and "...And I Will Find You" come the closest of anything I've heard to capturing what I love about Luomo's The Present Lover (so y'all probably won't like it!). "...And I Will Find You" is luxuriantly deep dubby house, all shimmering atmospherics and whispered declarations of fidelity, like a half-remembered dream about an unrequited love.

"Lock Me Up" boasts gorgeous lazer-gun synth melodies, a rattling snare pattern and a simple bass progession that could have come from Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works, while the vocalist gets all "Bizarre Love Triangle" in his romantic self-abegnation. I suspect that the difficulty so many people have with The Present Lover is not knowing how to (or why they should) listen with different ears, to forget the great sonic strides Luomo made with Vocalcity and really connect with his new, simpler approach. "Lock Me Up", sandwiched between two tracks of relative hardness, rearticulates the appeal of this brand of openhearted techno-pop with visceral effectiveness. For me, this music is all about the discovery of the capacity for love in the heart of the (dancefloor) machine. There's a directness to this stuff ("Sick and tired of these games we play!" the vocalist sighs on "Lock Me Up"), with its enormous heartstring-tugging synth riffs and propulsive, inviting 4/4 beats, which speaks to our lovelorn romanticism rather than our sonic receptors, saying "Lose yourself in the music, by all means, but don't ever forget to reach out and touch someone..."


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