Umek
Neuro

By Andy Rantzen

 
Uros Umek’s reputation has been built on jacking, buzzy minimalist floor material with more than a wave to the rave. His recent mix CD The Torture Chamber 2 was a surprisingly lightweight collection of solidly forgettable tech-house tracks that wouldn’t have been out of place in some superclub or other, and he appeared to be moving toward the mainstream as his popularity increased. Well, this record, his first album, confuses the issue even more. It is, as the palpably nervous press release points out, “an uncompromising work, full of audacious and challenging audio statements. It is confused and confusing, like the time(s) we are living with/in” (Euro-English: isn’t it cute?). The press release even goes as far as to suggest that the record might even disappoint his techno fans. One senses record company executives clutching their heads. But a true techno fan likes surprises, and this is a record with plenty of them.

For the most part, the tracks are short, in the three to four minute range, and some are very short indeed. The feel of many of these tracks recalls Aphex Twin in his On phase. Frantic drill‘n’bass drums, often with brutal digital distortion on the kick, jack pneumatically behind sombre, neurotic phrases played on harp-like, string-like and bell-like sounds, many of which oscillate dizzily between the speakers. Some of the melodies recall the same open-ended querulousness explored by Brian Eno on his album The Drop. Umek’s production is as clean as Eno’s too, much cleaner and more precise than Richard James’s, and this makes the tracks seem even colder and more neurotic. Then, just to pepper things up, there are a few anomalies. Track 3, Pseudo, is so reminiscent of A Broken Frame-era Depeche Mode that I was expecting Dave Gahan to come in with some of his teenage lyrics. Track 9, Neurotrotter, is a sublime piece of Detroit cruiseliner luxury space funk of which even Juan Atkins would’ve been proud. And, finally, track 14, Neuropa Humbug, is an absolute daddy. It is 100% Belgium New Beat, the old style, slow, DAF bassline, detuned drums and all. When the stentorian vocalist from Laibach suddenly appears in the mix, intoning what can only be a righteous Slovenian diatribe, the post-apocalpyse New Beat revival is officially underway.
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