In the court of electronic musicians who are acclaimed for being able to tickle your brain, John Tejada has worked himself up to be a prince of darkness. Despite his residence in California, music writers are always quick to point out that his music is definitely not sunny. But hey, if it’s not sunny we’re after then the ground is as deep as the sky is high. And with Signs Under Test the listener plummets though Tejada’s treble, bass, and meaty mid-range and aligns with his newfound rhythmic fascinations. In fact, you can absorb all of that just as the album hatches open. “Two 0 One” may be riding on a simple melodic line, but the syncopated pings in the background eventually commandeer the melody. A third of the way into the first track and Tejada has already raised a sheet of sound where the smallest of chord changes match the smallest of rhythmic changes. If there is a musicological term for this kind of thing, “Two 0 One” ought to be used as an example in those courses.
Signs Under Test spends nearly an hour exploring the peak of the mountain, the valleys below and the various hidden caves in between. The sun even comes out for a brief moment in “Cryptochrome”, but even then there’s enough of an overcast to remind you that a form of the word “chrome” is in the title. The pads in the background are once again working the rhythmic angle while Tejada’s main melody is nothing more than a few chords drifting up and down, in search of a mood. Meanwhile, a track like “Meadow” lives in the dark with a lead synthesizer line that is so round and soft in sound that it can almost pass undetected. When the blossom does in fact open near “Meadow”‘s halfway point, it doesn’t stick around for very long. If you don’t want to be teased, then go straight to “Beacht”, easily a highpoint for Signs Under Test. This is where John Tejada truly gets sinewy. As the robots in the basement nudge the song into its straightforward beat, the descending melodic figure repeats and sometimes inverts itself while doing so. And along comes a synthesizer sound much like the under-the-radar one on “Meadow” and it feels like a door has been unlocked. The robotics stay under ground while dim lights scale a skyscraper.
“There’s a bit more dreamy tape wobble going on throughout”,—“...I’ve tried to cut out distractions and really focus on the production.” Production fuss can be such a red herring at times, listening to disappointed listeners drone on and on about how too much time is spent on production and not enough is spent on songwriting/rocking out. Well, production fuss has its time and place in the pop universe and Signs Under Test is one such example. Had Tejada cut corners on the production, he would have forsaken many details. And who was it that said that God was in the details? In electronic music, a subtle sleight of hand can hold your ears and brain hostage.
Ranking Signs Under Test alongside the rest of John Tejada’s work is like trying to argue that one shape or color is overall better than another. Everything that he’s been a part of has a flavor to it that sets it apart from so many other dance releases. That flavor alters from album to album. Signs Under Test is a stimulating and engaging swirl, one that you cannot easily shake. And watch for that dark spring in your step after absorbing “Beacht”. If you own more than one Aphex Twin release, prepare to be boarded.
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