Luke Abbott: Holkham Drones (Border Community)
It is not surprising in the least that James Holden signed talented producer Luke Abbott to his Border Community imprint. There are several instances across this album’s playback where I’m struck by how much Abbott’s music sounds like Holden’s, two kindred spirits playing within the nebulous arena of minimal techno and tech house. The album starts off with a delicate post-rock-tinged, drowsy opener, “2nd 5th Heavy,” characterized by looping guitar phrases and woozy synth stabs over a hesitant rhythm track. It’s a nice palate-cleanser before things really get going as the album proceeds. Abbott has a knack for tinkering with analogue synths and letting them roam a bit, despite being mostly locked in time. He shares Holden’s affinity to the arpeggiator, changing settings and parameters on the fly and enjoying the sometimes unpredictable results. At times the sound is sweet and melodic and almost gentle, such as the pretty melody of “Sirens For The Colour” or the drowsy synths of “More Room,” but my favorites are often where Abbott walks the line between precision and being “off” somehow. The quantizing isn’t perfect, or the tones are slightly bent — the bigger picture seems out of focus, or maybe just askew. The drum programming on the album is consistently light, a lot of 808 sounding light snares with some roughness around the edges, but it rarely is full-on and punchy like a typical club mix. Instead, Abbott piles on layers of tones, synths, effects and odd arpeggios and patterns to weave a tapestry that’s as vibrant as the release’s cover art and dizzying. “Trans Forest Alignment” may be the best example of this, a nicely blown out track that moves at a good clip and devolves into droning vertigo. Elsewhere, “Brazil” moves in double-time with a snappy swagger that makes it another highlight of an album full of them. Ultimately it’s that combination of analogue melody and subtly askew details that make the album work so well. Easily one of the best of 2010 and a pity that I’m discovering it so recently — but better late than never.
Watch/listen: Trans Forest Alignment