[20 June 2007]
The first name “Mikkel” (Meldgaard) foresees a natural beat-maker. Its pronunciation, with the sharp pair of “k"s occupying the middle, takes on a percussive quality. Even a single utterance of “Mikkel” aurally contains a firm crescendo and then a comedown, like any well-formed rhythm. The full moniker Mikkel Metal indicates the culmination of this potential. Indeed, Danish producer Mikkel Meldgaard, formerly of assorted noise-rock groups, came to embrace his avowed inspiration –- crisp electronic music -– in the mid 90s. Since this crossover, “Metal” has replaced his christian last name, highlighting a “fondness for hard, metallic drum’n’bass cuts”.
This description points to material with a locomotive, near-techno inflection. But, on both his previous full-lengths, 2005’s Close Selections and 2006’s Victimizer, Mikkel preferred the ambient and amorphous to more athletic exercises. In general, these pieces equally valued oozy texture and rhythm.
To its vast benefit, Mikkel’s excellent new release, Brone and Wait, in part bridges this chilled sonic temperament with his earlier inclination towards spry, icy-hot rhythms. The genuinely impressive feat?: the beats, those protruding, punchy, and infectious beats that Mikkel insistently holds onto throughout and which, dexterously, lend kick to the brisker compositions and calm to more reflective moments.
Brone and Wait roughly divides into separate thirds of these differing aesthetic tacks –- from urgent gallops to moderate grooves to lulled drifts -– but the breaks are not so clean, a la Bowie’s wildly schizophrenic Low. Rather, a decompression process is at work, whereby the tight, nearly ironic swerviness of the opening salvo “Dromos” shares book-ending duties with the concluding “Conceal”, a wandering, ambient meditation. As expected, “Dromos” offers greater thrills. Though thoroughly chrome-colored (like the whole of Brone and Wait), its main ingredients -– dark synths and a fizzy drum machine -– contain mystery and drama that induce bodily movement. Its cousin piece, “Stand Guard”, is even more of an 80s throwback, with glinting electro-organs and airy darts. The underlying connection, though, remains the beats, here so frosty and magnetic.
“Nexer” initiates a quiet retreat from the spunky step of “Dromos” and “Stand Guard”, striving for more piecemeal progression. Just one listen might suggest a lurch; further tries reveal a persistent, forward-moving sense of mission which, now inescapably, comes in the form of meaty rhythms. The details are there as well, the douses of sonic data that, through Mikkel’s expert handling, never trip up the focused course of the main beat. These mid-paced tracks are acutely susceptible to this hazard. Their rhythms don’t imperially dominate, like the opening numbers, but neither have they slid into the background (vis a vis ambient), creating a heightened potential for clashes between core and peripheral sounds. On “Exraster”, “Roddan”, and “Sala” (names that smack of characters from the Sci-Fi channel), Mikkel eludes this pitfall by pushing the echoes, pongs, and flickers to the edges and maintaining an open channel for the speciality of his craft.
This is the stunning quality of Brone and Wait: Mikkel never sacrifices his vision of sharp rhythms for generic considerations, be it techno, minimal house, or the lush thickets of ambient that close the album. This final stretch isn’t as immediately gratifying, but it is no less skilled. Recalling the best of stateside electronic practitioners, Telefon Tel Aviv, “Bano” is just a hazy drip of a song, all texture and atmosphere. “Krudina” follows and weirdly succeeds via a packed mix of compressed fuzz beats and watery touches. The ultimate effect is hypnotic, despite its dense patches.
At its terminus, Brone and Wait seems to have gone in reverse. For whatever reason, a buildup comes across more naturally than a fifty plus minute unwind. This is Mikkel’s method of operation, however, charting a night from the tail end of a club sojourn into the languid plod of an after-bar’s closing moments. Beyond this curiosity, Brone and Wait is quite straightforward. Though they lack any trace of vocals and may only flirt with proper song climaxes, these ten entries essentially approximate pop schema. That they overflow with indelible rhythms is the real cause for joy. Say it aloud once more: “Mikkel,” the name of a superlative beat craftsman.