Saturday, 19 May 2012

Monolake - Ghosts


For some reason, whenever I approach a Monolake record even before having listened to a solitary second, I'm remitted with this torn-in-two state of mind that I'm, for one, going to experience something completely and ingeniously clever...and another, that my expectations are set so Everest-esque high, that anything less than brilliant will be classed as a disappointment. It's an unintentional assumption, but considering that what was once the creative duo of Gerhald Behles & Robert Henke (Monolake for a long period acting as a solo project of Henke) - the same men responsible for Ableton, probably one of the most well-known brands in the music production community - it's almost rudimentary to think that the same people behind such a critically important chain of software have more than enough skill and know-how to somehow pull out a diversity of listening that, in some shape, comes across as almost godly in its encompassed state. In reality, this isn't exactly the case, but for more than a decade, Monolake have strived to continue testing said programs and digitized instruments and as a result, their discography is a wash of minimal techno come downtempo compositions. 'Ghosts' here, is the first release in the third decade of Monolake's active line of production and makes no hesitation in reeling us straight into the World of symphonic electronic culmination.

The self-titled opener immediately grabs the attention with its bass-infused drops, leading us through a jungle-like sizzle of percussion and accompanying breakbeat moments that feel more characteristically atmospheric than energetic. The vocal usage here is barely anything captivating or additional to the larger scope of the track, but it certainly emphasizes the somewhat distilled industrial edge this track is varnished in. 'Taku' likewise reflects the album's initially more-hollower yet haunting direction with a sweep of bouncy-ball synths and heart-beats of bass that on occassions, merely mask this further enveloping uneasiness seeping through the layers of the track. Anyone who has listened to a single Plaid or Future Sound of London track will instantly recognize the similarity in cold, brisk electronics overlaid atop a spreading of minimal techno and testing ambient sounds. But rather than just being a carbon copy, the track does push beyond these invisible barriers. More and more, the track distorts and warps into something more tantalizing and pressured, as if caught amidst something eventful.

But it's 'Hitting The Surface' that demonstrates the branching off nature this album is keen to express. What starts as a somewhat cautious raising of minimal ambience, soon conjures a hefty drum beat veiled in this wet and gloomy background of water and wind that feels far from relaxing, but not exactly threatening or uncomfortable, either. What makes this track is the continuation and through it, the way the track manages to keep its somewhat clean and crisp synthetic beat at the heart of what is, on the surface, a rummage of background disturbance and foreground settling of electronics. Likewise, 'The Existence of Time' has a somewhat brisk micro-house Selected Ambient Works-esque edge to it. But further to that, the ghostly-lit luminescence of synthetic sound in the background reiterates the somewhat complex but intense scurrying taking place between these genres.

The album isn't without its faults, because of this. Next track 'Phenomenon' tends to falter despite the sweeping enormity of its spacious sound-scaping, and it's the drooping of liquidated bass and a rarity of drum beats that rather deflects attention away from the more delicate treading that the track tends to be more directed towards. Experimentation as far as the actual content of said beats isn't what causes the distraction, but rather its placement alongside this specific sweep of ambience, on reflection, doesn't exactly feel best suited. The final minute thereafter is a partially squirming, partially drained stranglehold of pitch and tone, and despite all means of investigative over-longing here, in the end the track overall becomes less and less desirable the more it carries on. Where the ambience and minimalism gets replaces by this drastic churning of sound, there's a immediate sense of unneeded withdrawal, and it doesn't aid a track that produces little in momentum and desirability.

Beats are used in different manners on this album, but not all of it is masked in this same delicate wet-droplet type pin-pricking. 'Lilith' showcases a more upbeat and adventurous attempt at using drums against a backdrop that doesn't entirely feel timid or delicate, but rather feels as if it pokes and prods between the sound waves themselves. It's when the melody really kicks into gear and the drums disintegrate into this distorted glitch that this wavering backdrop reveals itself to us, and the sound is one of immense enjoyment. For anyone who favors electronic's more ambitious tempo of synthesized beats and effects, this is definitely a track worthy of mention. 'Foreign Object', the album's closer ends with more of the same, more-so in its push of bass laying underneath the slush of drums that continue the upbeat nature of previous.

All in all, despite the odd track here and there sounding more like an unwanted extension, I can safely say this album has enough credentials about it to not just require, but instigate too a fair few listens of its compiled tracks. But further to that, 'Ghosts' breaks away from Monolake's tradition of tepid ambience and minimal techno. Alongside the tampering of drum beats and frosty bass lines wobbling in the background, the album certainly draws the curtains, revealing to us a testing and, at times, treacherous hike into unknown territory. In real-life, that may be considered dangerous or risky, but in music there's always a chance that it will pay off and deliver us some interesting results. And while the palette here isn't exactly luxurious or multi-tonal, the album certainly succeeds in maybe not grabbing our attention, but certainly tugging at it.
~Jordan

7.6

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