Monday, 17 September 2012

Review: Echospace - Silent World

Finally. After months of delays, re-delays and fiddly-ass online purchasing contrivances, I have the new Echospace album. Such was my excitement at finding it on the shelf in Rough Trade I’m pretty sure I actually did a small jig of triumph, punching the air like some music hipster McEnroe, triumphant in my acquisition of esoteric dub techno.

There was a degree – a very small, extremely Internet degree – of discussion around this album before its release. Previous Echospace albums were released through Manchester’s uber-trendy Modern Love label, but for whatever reason Silent World has been put out through Echospace’s own label. Was the album too unoriginal and derivative for such a prestigious label as Modern Love? Or were Modell and Hitchsel trying to maximise profits from a name that has become so trendy in recent years, thousands of sales are more or less guaranteed? The truth is undoubtedly much more prosaic and boring, as it usually is when it comes to release dates and labels, but it made for a good bit of speculation while we all sat around and waited for this damn thing to actually come out.

Although you’re unlikely to notice while listening to it, much of the source material for Silent World is apparently derived from the Liumin sessions, (Liumin being their 2010, Japan-themed album – that’s as much factual info as you’re getting for the day, so make the most of it). One of the few core tenets of dub techno is that is a genre based around the endless “reshaping” of constituent parts, and previous Echospace releases have often revolved around one source track remixed and reshaped into ten or twelve totally different sounding pieces. Stripped of the field recordings made in Japan, and this feels like a different record altogether – the sweltering haze recalibrated into something slightly danker, darker and more forlorn in places.

NOTE: The following was written on a train journey during my third play through of this album, when I had no Internet to read up about the music. I’ve since discovered that the tracks are separated and named on the vinyl release, so strictly speaking the following text is redundant and makes me look silly and uninformed. So in that spirit, here it is. It at least makes for an interesting blind listen, my honest impressions of what’s going on, uncoloured by meta-information:

Perhaps the most notable thing you discover when listening to Silent World for the first time is that the duo have somewhat unhelpfully opted to block the entire release into a single 71 minute running track, even though it’s quite clear from listening that there are at least seven separate pieces of music contained within. For the most part, these tracks do segue seamlessly into each other, as is standard on Echospace long players, but there’s a moment about an hour in when the music just clearly stops and goes into something completely different.

As such, even though Echospace clearly don’t want us to divide the record up into constituent parts. I’ve taken it upon myself to analyse the music carefully and figure out the various section. Here’s what I came up with:

Track 1: Runs from the start (no shit) until about seven minutes in, a totally ambient piece comprising of drones, glitchy crackles and trademark Echospace texturology.

Track 2: An eleven minute piece, from seven minutes until about 18. The drones of the opening track bleed into this, which is a dub techno piece quite reminiscent of parts of Liumin.

Track 3: At around eighteen minutes, the track dies down and this moody piece creeps in. Another techno track, but with more distinctive Echospace crackles and audio mistiness, with eerie background acoustics creating quite a subterranean sound.

Track 4: Beginning at about twenty seven minutes, this is another Liumin-esque techno chugger that retains some of the subterranean vibes of the previous piece. Distant melodies echo occasionally in the background, fragments of the Jamaican dub ancestry of the record.

Track 5: In the thirty ninth minute this fairly short pieces starts to come in. Quite a percussive track, which might almost sound like a slice of dancefloor techno if it wasn’t so hazed out underneath layers of atmospherics. At around forty five minutes it begins to dissolve into droney pads.

Track 6: Possibly my favourite part of the album, this is a spaced out fourteen minute epic that is characterised by a squiggly synth refrain that brings to mind my favourite outer space explorers, Aural Imbalance. As the track goes on, some extremely grainy and lo-fi percussion enters proceedings, the kick drum muted and with most of its lower end frequencies filtered out. The track reminds me of something from the Vantage Isle Sessions, updated with the tropical haze of Liumin.

Track 7: Track six fades out quite abruptly around the hour mark, replaced by this moody, near-ambient outro piece that runs for the final eleven minutes. The field recording origins are slightly more apparent here, and the sparse, low-key rhythms tick away mainly in the background. This track is a superb example of how Echospace build audio environments – sounding for the all world like you’re trapped in some pitch black, hyperreal cave listening to the vivid soundscapes bouncing back off distant surfaces.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t particularly miss having the tracks divided up, because as with all DeepChord/Echospace/cv313/etc. material, this is soundscape music designed to be played continually from start to finish. It’s hardly the kind of record where you’ll want to skip forward to the catchy hits, unless you’re some futuristic alien species that finds refracted sound environments to be total ear hooks. In which case: please don’t enslave our puny race for not providing track separations on this particular cultural artefact, cheers.

NOTE: Thus ends the uninformed ignorance. Yeah, I didn't spot BCN Dub, forgive me for not having played Liumin too recently.

So, the bit you’ve impatiently scrolled downward to hear: is Silent World any good? Yes, obviously, but not without caveats. It moves on somewhat from previous Echospace releases, although the reuse of Liumin material inevitably results in a slightly familiar vibe. Really, Echospace are master craftsmen at teasing and tweaking the sonic textures of field recordings and other found sounds into headphone candy that makes the majority of techno sound absolutely two dimensional by comparison. Nobody else does it quite like them (as I’ve mentioned before while making huge, sweeping broadsides at dub techno as a scene) and so when you buy an Echospace record, you know what you’re going to get.

However, I’m not sure this is as good as The Coldest Season or Liumin, because it lacks an obvious and audible framing device to contextualise the soundscaping. There’s still plenty for Echospace fans to wrap their headphones around, but I suspect some who forked out the ludicrous pre-order fees for the full vinyl package may secretly be feeling slightly let down in terms of bang for their buck.

Genre: Dub techno
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 8/10

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