23
Apr 99

Monolake – Interstate

FT/1 comment • 214 views

The shutdown of the Chain Reaction label leaves its various artists to fend for themselves, without the cover of CR’s austere aesthetic: skeletonised house, ultra-repetetive processed dub, and of course the literal cover of those lovely but irritating metal tins. Some Chain Reaction bands had already found the label restrictive, of course, notably Porter Ricks, who decamped angrily to Mille Plateaux to make their eccentric and marvellous second album. Some, you imagine, will be lost without the label: both lesser talents like Substance and artists like Vainqueur whose slow, gaseous music was so perfect for Chain Reaction that you can’t ever imagine it appearing under any other banner.

And some people always rather stuck out anyway. If I’d had to pick a Chain Reaction band destined for a wider audience, it would have been Monolake, whose Hongkong album was both one of the jewels in the label’s crown and somehow vastly different from anything else CR were putting out. Mostly that was down to the sound’s immense richness. This was a different type of jungle music, with field recordings from the Far East integrated into teeming thickets of sound: Monolake’s tracks were abustle with digital life, and the semi-familiar samples (crickets, commuter trains, the patter of rain) gave you a way in. With this self-constructed tropical zone riding on the bounciest basslines ‘ambient’ music had encountered since the Orb’s commercial glory days, Hongkong was a nourishing treat.

Sad to report, Interstate is a great deal less successful. Those compulsive rolling basslines are mostly vanished, for a start, and with them the serenity that permeated Hongkong: Monolake’s music is now several degrees itchier, digital beats and pulses skittering across the surface of every track here, never letting the listener relax but never pulling them into the rhythmic maze like the best/most hypnotic Chain Reaction techno did.

This makes Interstate in some ways a sight hipper than Hongkong, and lo-and-behold the quaint samples have also mostly dropped out of sight. A jittery aesthetic of tics, blips and complex beat micromeshes is indeed where listening electronica is more or less at right now, but Monolake’s album already sounds a bit dated, like something 808 State might have produced three or four years ago if they’d bought a couple of Oval records (and the cheap-looking cover most certainly doesn’t help).

Dated-ness needn’t be a fatal vice, of course: this kind of electronica, even after almost fifteen years (probably more), still has a snippy pride about its claims to futurism. But ‘dance music’ as a whole has never been more backward-looking than it is today, so if Interstate had the sounds and ideas to match its Kraftwerk-allusive title nobody would care about its slight lack of ‘originality’. By and large, though, it doesn’t. Monolake’s other great weakness, you see, is their lack of attention to texture – there’s nothing particularly sensuous about their sharp, pinched beats, nothing you could wallow in like you could in their Chain Reaction work. What you’re left with is the occasional admirable idea or pleasantly melodic moment (the lazy Amazon sounds most like their old stuff, Ginza comes as near as anything here to rhythmic compulsion, Terminal is sweetly kitsch in places) amongst a slew of very average ones. What’s particularly distracting is the way you can hear the process at work: on Amazon and Abundance, for example, Monolake have obviously got hold of the same kind of bouncing-ball rhythmic algorithm Aphex Twin sometimes uses, and they deploy it again and again to increasingly annoying effect.

In truth we’re not talking here about a bad album, just another disappointing one – certainly there are many less pleasant, more bombastic or pretentious or banal ways to spend an electronic evening. Interstate is also a transitional record, certainly – though its rigorous approach did techno a lot of good, offering the version of minimalist dance music which had most thoroughly cut ties with Detroit, it wasn’t perhaps a sound to build careers on. It’s just a shame that the most promising techno act of recent times now seem so directionless.

Comments

  1. 1
    Almo on 27 Oct 2011 #

    Hmm. Didn’t seem that bad to me. I just found Tangent II annoying.

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