The Fear Ratio
Lightbox

By Kone-R

 
The idea of an album co-produced by UK techno dons James Ruskin and Mark Broom for the former's Blueprint label was one which appealed strongly to me when I heard it was in the pipeline. I'll admit to having concerns though. Since the label's relaunch it's turned out a consistently high-quality minimal aesthetic on a number of 12”-singles, with productions from the likes of Robert Hood, Marcel Dettmann and Sigha. But would these two techno stalwarts take the opportunity to push the boundaries a little further on the often-tricky full-length format?

Lingering largely around the 70/140bpm mark, it's certainly not typical of Blueprint's output. Instead these producers show off the depth of the sound palette at their disposal to create one of the finest albums you'll hear this year.

From the opening kick of Guv 1 the agenda is clear — here are works with the lowest bass frequencies and highest production values. The crisp glitch of Bronik sidles craftily between half and double speed tempos in a manner reminiscent of Phoenicia or Richard Devine, whilst the resolute Pinhead turns a similar trick. Antiarc however, almost threatens to explode into breakcore.

Given the reputation of these two beatsmiths for functional and floor-centric loop-based tracks, it's a surprisingly tuneful affair. Melodically there are a number of motifs which are reminiscent of the more experimental flashes shown on Ruskin's own previous full-length The Dash (released on Tresor), although the themes here are more intricately processed and drawn out. Mas turns in the only recognisably 'techno' moment of straight-up 4/4 stomp, a full-on fist-pumper which breaks the album up quite effectively, although it does feel slightly uncomfortable with its more esoteric bedfellows.

The Quick And The Dead would fit snugly into a Plaid DJ set (it wouldn't be entirely out of place on one of their records either) — indeed, if you're looking for a name with which to compare the overall vibe of this record, theirs would be a good call. No surprise then that they've been brought in for remix duties on one of the bonus tracks on the CD, syncopating the beat from Morning Blues into a lurching swing pattern which will cause serious head scratching, but layering it with the sort of lush new age textures that graced their recent full-length Scintilli. I'm being slightly unfair with the comparisons here — yes, there are many recognisable touchstones littered through Lightbox, but it's no mere paean to the days of classic Warp electronica; it sounds thoroughly contemporary and succeeds in displaying skills in Ruskin and Broom which you always suspected they had, but never quite found the opportunity to fully show off (something they do with aplomb on Guv Three and on another bonus track where they switch monikers to remix themselves, this time as Deadhand).

Not the album a techno purist would expect then, but one I have little doubt they will find deeply rewarding, as I daresay the artists themselves found the experience of writing it.
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