Electronic music is a genre that prizes technological/compositional/sonic innovation and flashy entrances; everyone’s always on the lookout for the next big thing or game-changer.
The occasional late-arrival narrative happens (see, for example, Underworld’s unpromising beginnings, first in Freur and then in an unsuccessful “rock” iteration of their current band); but for the most part if you haven’t made a huge splash pretty early on in your career, it seems like people stop paying much attention.
Which is ridiculous, really. Quantum leaps in one’s art and craft are no more or less likely to occur later in life when working with the tools of electronic music, than with more traditional instruments.
I bring all this up, because it’s the only explanation I can come up with for why people seem to be sleeping on John Tejada’s fantastic 2015 LP Signs Under Test.
I’ve been wanting to write about it for a while, as it will undoubtedly turn out to be one of my albums of the year (I’ve returned to its melodic techno a LOT, and it’s a proper album, with excellent musical and emotional flow), but no official videos have showed up. So we’ll go unofficial.
Up top is the album opener, which incorporates a softly-rounded kickdrum under a supple yet unhurried bassline, while all kinds of watery, shimmery synth effects dance nimbly over and around it; at one point, almost everything else drops out to briefly reveal a naked breakbeat that calls to mind the rhythm track of FSOL’s classic “Papua New Guinea”, then we are back to the hollow clanking thock of the cool-yet-relentless snare, hissing hi-hat and an offbeat righthand percussion effect that sounds like single drops of water rhythmically dripping onto an overturned saucepan.
Tejada’s been around a good long while, and he’s tried his hand at many different kinds of sturdy house/dance/trance/techno music; this newest release is his third full-length since hooking up with Kompakt.
“Beacht” is melancholy Detroit-style techno; unlike more archetypal examples of that though, there’s a certain blurriness to the lovingly-detailed sound design on display here. It sounds less like “the future”, and more like “the far future, looking back on its distant past (which is still our future)”; all hard edges long eroded and rendered indistinct by the passage of insensible time.
Speaking of days of future past, this next funkily-burbling track’s named after the 1920 Czech play that introduced the word “robot” to English (and the concept itself to sci-fi):
Bits of Signs Under Test remind me of famous albums like Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Vol I; others call to mind the semi-obscure 1993 minor-classic album by US trancey act Young American Primitive. But taken as a whole, the album achieves something close to a perfect absorption and synthesis of its various predecessors.
One of the things that the best home-listening techno does is guide the mind into the same kind of effortlessly-flowing cool groove that club-listening techno aims to do with the hips:
The ever-shifting play of sound “light” and “colors” (achieved, I am assuming, with sound filter manipulation?) in this is simply breathtaking:
Martin Gore isn’t quite in the same position as John Tejada, having spent decades as world-conquering electronic act Depeche Mode’s primary songwriter.
But he just released an instrumental electronic solo record under the moniker “MG”; though this low-key advance track is not anything revolutionary (ha…like Martin Gore has anything to prove to anybody), it’s IMO simply lovely, and the video is very nice too:
As “Europa Hymn” indicates, the album is full of analog ghosts; fragments of soundtrack-type hums and mournful tones, not DM-style dancefloor- or arena-filler. I dig it.
A few years back, Gore and Vince Clarke (Depeche Mode’s original primary songriter, who went on to his own success with Yaz and Erasure) got back “together” (well, online anyway) as VCMG; their Ssss was a throwback, spartan true techno record. Perhaps not up-to-date with the latest electronic music trends; still, the fact these are two guys are pretty much incapable of NOT writing hooks, guarantees a good listen. If you like your electronic pulses minimal and brutally-efficient (like LFO’s Frequencies, say), it could be up your alley.