In a manner of speaking, albums such as this are virtually critic-proof. Whether the artist intends it or not, music like this, presented in as unassuming a context as this, is absorbed into the critical consciousness without the merest hint of friction. You either like minimal melodic glitch techno or you don’t.
I happen to like the genre a lot, but I’m at something of a loss as to how to react to Honig’s work. If I didn’t have a cheat-sheet in front of me, I could never in a million years have guessed that he made his bones as a drum ‘n’ bass DJ before moving on to more minimal pastures. Does knowing this fact change my perception of the music? I don’t really know. Perhaps we absorb these little cues subconsciously, fitting the pieces into a pre-formed puzzle we have in our minds, trying to make the facts mesh with a ready-made critical blueprint that we apply to everything we encounter. Some artists just don’t fit our preconceived notions.
I like this album… I think. There’s something very soothing about it. It has an elegant, calming effect—an effect not dissimilar to having a thick wool blanket wrapped around your head. It’s reminiscent of To Rococo Rot, with some of the Herbert’s ramshackle charm (but without any trace of Herbert’s house or jazz elements). It is very much artificial music. Whereas artists such as Four Tet manipulate a disorienting sense of misplaced naturalism, Honig is very clear to leave awkward reminders of artificiality present throughout the music. Interesting percussive effects are created when small melodic snippets are cycled repeatedly. The clicks and snaps of skipping samples are incorporated into the rhythmic narrative, creating an ambience similar to standing in a small room with a man eating potato chips. Perhaps it is a man eating potato chips—after all, both Herbert and Matmos have made crafted entire albums from the found sounds of the human organism.
The opening track, “Passing Through”, reminds me of early Pole for a moment, before it morphs into a very muted Detroit techno groove. There’s nothing terribly difficult going on here—it’s not Autechre—but it’s effective.
I’m not sure whether or not the fact that this album keeps reminding me of other artists says more about the album or my meager skills as a critic. The fact is, there’s nothing here that would sound out of place on any number of artists’ albums. “Falling Down” could be a Vespertine-era Bjork b-side. “Green Tea”, with its dominant minor-chord melody, could be Lali Puna. Ultimately, there’s nothing here that speaks so much of grand individual artistic vision as formalistic exercise.
But is it good? If I sound conflicted, it’s because I am. There is nothing wrong with this disc. It’s very pleasant to listen to, even beautiful in places. But is it enough to be merely beautiful? Is it enough to present yourself as a clever cipher? This seems to be the heart of the matter: is it enough to please, or is something more engaging required?
Honestly, this album does little to engage the listener. It slides off your mind, slipping in one ear and out the other, leaving in its wake a vaguely pleasant sensation but little else. You can go back and try to pinpoint the exact origin of the vague delight, but you probably won’t find it. There’s nothing new here, nothing that stands out and nothing that surprises. To its credit, there’s nothing bad here, either but is unobtrusiveness a virtue in and of itself?
Perhaps I shall listen to this album again, perhaps not. It is pleasingly performed, well conceived and competently presented. But there’s nothing here that makes me care about what Honig is trying to say. Is he trying to say anything? That’s a good question. Based on the evidence here, I’d say that if he ever does decide he wants to communicate something more engaging, it would be worth a listen. But until then, there’s nothing here.