Matrixxman: Homesick (Ghostly)
Charlie Duff’s minimal techno alter ego is gaining momentum beyond techno’s more cerebral outskirts, thanks in particular to this more widely promoted release for Ann Arbor label Ghostly International. While his preceding Amulet EP had a certain accessibility that was far more pronounced than some of his more wayward productions for labels like Dekmantel and Delft, it’s actually quite refreshing to hear Homesick as an accomplished amalgamation of the various sides of Duff’s repertoire (as well as advances in those respective directions) that feels like a complete album experience. Techno full-lengths can be tricky, I suppose — my personal favorites are those artists who feel free to explore without needing to prove anything, and it’s admirable that Duff has sculpted ten cuts that pander to no one. Whereas Amulet seemed to suggest a nudge toward more conventional melodic tendencies, Homesick sidesteps those expectations all but completely. “Necronomicon” opens things up in style, a slow brew of flanged acid, diffuse bass kicks and filters that maneuver through deep space. it recalls the sublime underwater techno of Porter Ricks, but the comparison ends there. “Augmented” is far more immediate, with a bright kick and hihat combo propelling it over a minimal framework of patterns. If that appeared to defining a predictable direction for Homesick, that’s completely derailed by “Red Light District,” an odd synthy jam that reminds me both of vintage techno (Derrick May especially) and the drier, stranger sounds coming out from contemporaries such as Hieroglyphic Being. “Packard Plant” picks it up from there with another infectious synth bassline and big, proud chords and stabs, feeling like a throwback nod to the spacious chill-out sounds of Warp’s Artificial Intelligence era, never caving in to the temptation to turn into a proper jam; the same could be said for “Annika’s Theme,” a later ambient track that would feel just as comfortable alongside contemporary Arovane as vintage B12. Instead it obscures into something ambiguous and diffuse and is followed by the brief ambient-noise interlude “Dejected,” what I’d consider to be a bit of a palate-cleanser before the cleaner minimal techno of “Network Failure” livens things up again; its tried and true techno gestures recall prime Tresor or Dettmann, but its little acid details help unify it with the rest of the album nicely. From there it’s a pretty solid block of quality techno.
I’m willing to assume that Duff is influenced by a lot of the various classic eras of techno past, and it comes through in the filtered stabs of “False Pattern Recognition” or “Switchblade” and in the gloomy minimalism of “Opium Den” (again, Dettmann’s more serious side comes to mind). “HMU (Hit Me Up),” a collaboration with Vin Sol, shares the same bleepy dryness of “Red Light District,” as if they could be from the same sessions, with its various pieces and parts seeming to operate independently of one another; patterns aren’t necessarily in the same key (or any key, really), and so the layers are added and subtracted like on so many early techno favorites, feeling more like a live workout. “Earth Like Conditions” brings it to a close with its beatless patterns and effects, ripples and ridges that mirror its raised cover topography. It’s a welcome full-length debut that delivers quality from start to finish; highly recommended for technophiles and minimal electronic fans.