Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Nathan Fake - Steam Days


One word comes to mind when I look at the cover to 'Steam Days', techno-enthusiast Nathan Fake's latest release. The word is Spirograph, that Hasbro-branded innocently fun time-waster of a toy - drawing lines using curved shapes and then looking back at the beauty of the symmetrical geometry you'd formed. It's not just the visuals of the cover where the similarity is drawn, but surprisingly, it's the dominant and welcoming nostalgia of a decade-old hobby, that comes flooding back in multitudes. Amid all the techno albums of this year - and especially those that find themselves exploring the more minimal and abstracted visage of sound - 'Steam Days' is instead a celebratory look back rather than a hopeful gaze forward. But more so, through Fake's driving rhythms and well-sought interest in the electronic sub-genre, the result here stands more lively and more exciting, than just a simple history lecture.

'Paean' may not strike you as the most in-depth and reclusive to the techno vibe, but its direct encapsulating of warm aesthetic beats and ambient glows certainly lighten up the atmosphere. And for a track that - much like the majority showcasing on this record - lasts on average just a shade under four minutes, it is not without its self-made challenges of sending positive vibes across its many sound-waves. But it's 'Cascade Airways' that shows Fake's real intentions here. The drums get a lot heavier and dug into the mix - synths now acting out of response rather than simply dominating the composition. Something so simple as a collective of cymbal crashes and hi-hat executions actually comes across rather well when in conjunction with a sound that is neither euphoric nor melancholic in its approach. The aim, it seems, feels rather stripped back but not necessarily out of inability or desperation, and it's this deliberate resisting of overplaying the mixture that deserves some worthy credit.

But when the album fully embraces its techno roots, it shows. 'Old Light' plays out like a late night venture - the sweep of bubbly luminescent synths and soft paddings of drumbeats - to the point where you can imagine the pass of city blocks and neon signs in an age where this might have come across as too sci-fi in its transgression. It's the vibe, rather than the sound, as a result that sets the sound a light and through it, the individual reams of machine sounds become all too interconnected and simply part of the scenery. 'Harnser' shares the same boldness for darting back to the past, but its rampant rhythm and pacing tones send the track so much into a rushing blur, the past feels all too interwoven - much like the music itself - with the future. Something so direct shouldn't usually be able to pull off this very means to drive on, but somewhere somehow, the hypnotism and the awe of Fake's layering somehow turns what is a simple programming of beats into a behemoth of sheen and speed.

For all its pace - and even more-so, for the way this music can automatically apply itself, strip back, then redress in its silk-thin apparel of buzzing synths, beats and rhythm - the one thing that is quite remarkable is that it takes very little effort to understand and envisage the mechanics and the engineering behind these quite simple beats and choices of tone. That's not my suggestion that this is simple music made to the point where it's basic, or lacks any heart, soul or whatever word you use to define the essence of a sound. What I am taking note of, is the way these track are so simply constructed - so easy to register to ourselves whereupon we can literally see the stack of equipment and wires lined up as if in neatly-alligned rows on a desk - and yet when combined, when given the opportunity; the length, breadth and situation like many a metaphoric road of sorts, the music comes out in such blistering heart-thumping bursts, it takes a moment to fully realize just how immersive a genre such as this can be.

And away from Fake's harder-hitting showcase, tracks like 'Rue' are equally special for their uplifting outer-body innocence in experimentalism and simply letting something carry on. When it's not all techno's signature progression or electronic music's general fascination of the natural and the synthetic, the organic-like drone of expression and liberation can be just as revealing in its nature as previous showings. But indeed, Fake's exhibiting of the simple and the secluded comes off best when it's left to the tempo and the pacing of his music. The eight-minute 'Glow Hole' is as revealing as its title suggests. Amidst the sparks and twitches of synths that pop and strike like the 0's and 1's that they are, there's this deepening pit of analogous murmurs and digitizing croaks and calls to the outside. And the more you listen to, the more it feels as if it's calling out is to the present, to look back into the past; back to the days when artists such as LFO and Orbital were putting out brain-numbing landscapes of driving melodies through such simple but absorbing compositions. True, this track does rely on some latter-age appliance of mixing the track into a sort of chemical disturbance, but the simplicity of the beats and the journey taken by all components here, leads us down a path that is as soaringly bright as day as much as it is secludedly humble as night.

If I were to make one final comparison with 'Steam Days' - and its rewinding of time-effect in its palette of sound - I would have to note it's like looking through an old photo album and seeing yourself as a baby, then a child with a bike, then as a kid enjoying the thrill of that very ride. Not only does a record like this succeed in embracing the joy of such memorable ventures in the past, but proves that such simple things as snapshots into such a time can create as much an interest in this form of sound as today's state of evolving ideas and intrigued architects of the genre. This album then, is a message as much as it is a collection of tracks and the message is simple: never forget your roots and, most certainly, never forget the path you've taken. For all the complexities and evaluative efforts musicians put into making something work, sometimes you have to remember that the most simplest of executions can evoke more than just enjoyment. It can too bring back the joy - and yes, the memory - of getting to that goal in the first place. And in most cases, the journey ends up being the better experience.
~Jordan

7.7

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