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19 December 2017

Claro
Intelecto: Exhilarator (Delsin)

Mark
Stewart dons anew his Claro Intelecto moniker for a new full length
on Delsin, and he does not disappoint. Claro Intelecto’s last album,
2012’s Reform Club, was one of my very favorites of that year, and I
was curious how this one would sound by comparison. Stewart has taken
the project in lateral directions from a clear, clean central focus,
with results ranging from melodic Detroit-esque techno to deep, dusty
late night grooves. Exhilarator is significantly
more lively than Reform Club, with tempi that are generally a little
faster as well as rhythm sections that pack more punch, particularly
in the kick drum. And at 13 tracks and 76 minutes of playback,
listeners get more than their money’s worth. While most of
Exhilarator exists in stark contrast to Reform Club, it’s not so far
off the mark from the EP that Stewart released in between, Stanza.
Instead of continuing with the smooth, deep elegance of Reform Club,
Exhilarator often opts for toothier, more unpredictable arrangements,
falling more squarely into techno than its predecessor while making
all kinds of interesting lateral moves from there. While their
individual aesthetics remain distinct and apart, I can’t help but
draw comparisons to the trajectory of fellow Brit outlier Andy Stott,
whose music has covered a vast range, from clean melodic minimal
techno to lurching, murky grooves. Some of Exhilarator veers into the
latter, particularly “Ageless Eyes,” splitting the difference
between dark, pitch-bent techno and the weird zipping arrangements of
mid-00s Andy Vaz. Its strength is in Stewart’s overlapping sequences
of claps, snares, hihats, and kicks in different intervals, which
creates unpredictable layers of drumming, all locked in step as an
ever-changing groove.

Exhilarator by Claro Intelecto

By the time opening cut “Sunshine” gets
going, its tempo feels like a disorienting 45-slowed-to-33 groove,
but its arrangement exalts it with airy pads and clean resolve. But
“Eye Spy” that follows reveals Exhilarator to live more up to its
title, building the tension and aggression in its sound palette but
never quite coming to a full boil. In that sense, Stewart’s sense of
pacing is on point as ever; he sidesteps expectations yet again with
the glitch-hop of “Mr. Stewart,” feeling more akin to his debut
on Ai, but “Guardian Angel” then properly delivers a coarse,
angular house groove. The second half of the album that follows brief
interlude “Portrait” retreats more regularly into his Reform Club
lushness through sleek tracks like “Pantomime,” “Another Life,”
and closer “Bite the Hand,” feeling like a kindred spirit to
other deep melodic techno explorers Pantha du Prince and the Dial
Records camp. These are tempered in contrast by some of Stewart’s
more rough and tumble techno tracks like “Kozyrev’s Mirror” or
the brushy, more abstract detritus of long track “Slither – The
Way Home.” With its playback at 75 minutes, Exhilarator goes big
and long. In this way, it lacks the keen focus of Reform Club (which
was well under an hour), but it makes up for that in showcasing
Stewart’s range of talents as a producer, rarely willing to stay in
one mode for too long. Like Delta Funktionen’s Wasteland, released
last year on Delsin, it’s a solid collection of varied tracks that
are often rooted in techno without being limited by that association.

Buy it: Bandcamp

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