Byetone: SyMeta (Raster-Noton)
Olaf Bender was one of the founders of the Raster-Noton label in the mid 90s; when he started the label with Frank Bretschneider, it pre-empted much of the so-called glitch or clicks_+_cuts movement that followed around the turn of the century. Along with Mille Plateaux and their signings like Oval and Microstoria, Raster-Noton has really defined and explored the outer limits of contemporary computer music and its intersection with dance music culture. Bender has been on a pretty steady trajectory himself as Byetone since releasing his first album in 2003, the more minimal Feld. His music has evolved from that earlier glitch / microscopic sound into something with more of a groove, something more alluring and seductive. His sound capitalizes on the body movement of Pan Sonic’s most accessible material and gleans from EBM and IDM a bit more musicality, not just relying on the supersonic and error sounds of the core Raster-Noton aesthetic. His sophomore album, 2008’s Death of a Typographer, showed off Bender’s comfortability in combining the colder, atonal rhythm and severity of his earlier work and that of his peers with a deeper, warmer and more physical groove, and SyMeta is a logical extension of that. “T-E-L-E-G-R-A-M-M” is a good example of how just adding a sycnopated bass synth to the track opens it up to a new world of accessibility; take that away and it’s still largely a chuggy rhythm track and droning overtones and noise. The sound is big and full-bodied, showing off Bender’s progress as a producer and technician, but the underpinnings of many of these tracks are in the groove, not the details. It’s the bigger picture of how the music makes your body move that’s pivotal. “Neuschnee” is a more subtle track, but still has some momentum as it progresses, but the later album tracks are really the surprise. “Helix” and “Black Peace” are about as rock ‘n’ roll as Bender’s ever gotten… substitute guitars and bravado with cascading waves of noise and effects, of course. Just as “Opal” seems to make a nod toward minimal techno and the dance music that perhaps inspired the label, this block of tracks seems informed by pop and rock but remains loyal to Bender’s palette of sound. The sluggish, grimy plod of “Golden Elegy” closes out the album, winding down with a monologue by Jan Kummer; unfortunately I don’t understand the German and the digital version doesn’t include a translation. It’s a handsome progression of sound for both Bender and his label; I admire that he’s relatively fearless in exploring convention and turning it on its side, juxtaposing trends and aesthetics to serve his own musical agenda. Despite the wide array of terrain SyMeta travels, it’s a sharp, cohesive and smart album.