Square City
Sketches of the City

By Elizabeth Wells

I have to admit I approached this album with a level of suspicion that I certainly wouldn’t have had if the press release hadn’t been quite so fulsome with its praise, claiming that Sketches of the City raises the listener to a ‘plateau of emotive techno that has rarely been seen before’.

My initial doubt wasn’t exactly dispelled by the first three tracks on offer here either, which showcase a rather pedestrian electro-techno production. But this is the debut full-length release of Milton Keynes’ Dan Butler, whose 12” Jam Mumbo/Guided by Robots received good reviews, and it becomes evident that the album just takes a while to get going. In fact Butler has absorbed a range of influences to positive effect, including classic Detroit techno and modern twisted electro. The fourth track, Mental Pull begins to get my attention. It has a funky 90s house rhythm and nice warm pads in the background, and is quite reminiscent of the kind of thing Colin Dale might have spun on his Abstract Dance show a few years ago (bless those halcyon days before Kiss lost it).

However, it might be over-egging the pudding just slightly to bleat that this composition ‘betrays a mature musical sensibility that goes far beyond that of a debut album’. What Butler does achieve is a nice variety of pace, juxtaposing electro, techno and beatless tracks to maintain interest. Electric Spell goes for a harder electro feel, and delivers some interestingly textured cut n paste between screwed electro rhythms. You might argue that some of the instrumentation is a little old-fashioned, but Butler manages to perform some new variations on traditional themes. Whilst some of the tracks are clearly aimed at the dance floor with funky trance-tech basslines and snappy vocal samples, it is often the beatless tracks which stand out. Enter the Light layers droplets of sound then builds in warm analogue melodies with nice Detroit-esque undertones, and Farewell to the City introduces some subterranean languour with dubby echoes, providing a welcome interlude from the frantic pace of preceding pieces.

Overall, this album develops some nice ideas with polished execution, particularly when it ventures into a more hybridized form of traditional electro territory.
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