Like its monochromatic cover art, The Modernist’s Explosion is a balanced composition of form and tone. The incendiary title belies Jörg Burger’s marked preference for intricate song structure over visceral outburst on his first solo album since the 1998 stateside release of Las Vegas, a collaborative effort with fellow Cologne minimalist Mike Ink as burger/ink.
While most techno adheres to some semblance of a tripartite intro-build-peak structure, minimalist techno lingers in the build and never quite reaches a crescendo, like someone steadily and with rising intensity rapping at a pane of glass that will not break. Progressively evolving patterns of drum machines and synthesizers drive every track on Explosion from the stripped-down “Header” to the richly textured “Manson Soup,” which uses the same haunting guitar sketches found on Las Vegas. The approach teeters between tension and boredom. Lesser efforts would evoke a mathematical iciness, but here Burger’s plinks and plonks resonate with passion.
Explosion is consistently up-tempo, but few tracks, with the possible exception of the pulsating “Mrs. New Deal,” seem fit for the dance floor. Instead, the album shares an affinity in sound and manner with subdued Detroit techno classics like Kenny Larkin’s Azimuth and Carl Craig’s More Songs About Food and Revolutionary Art. It is thoroughly absorbing and compulsively foot-tapping, but tends to move you further back in your chair—not out of it—and into deep contemplation.
The Modernist is one of a small cadre of electronic artists signed by Matador Records, the U.S. bastion of indie rock. The label’s roster ranges from the soulful house of Jimi Tenor and the mellow trip hop of Nightmares on Wax to the quirky ambient of Boards of Canada. The artists seem to be linked only by mutually inconoclastic approaches to their respective genres. In the wake of electronica’s “Next Best Thing” that never happened, it’s encouraging to see that there are still homes for artists who frustrate expectations by working in a dance music idiom to produce music that’s not always meant for dancing. Matador’s release of Explosion includes three bonus tracks not found on last year’s original release on Burger’s own German label Popular, as well as last year’s singles “Architainment pt. 1” and “Mrs. New Deal.”
No techno artist would be content without a legion of pseudonyms, and Burger is no exception. In addition to burger/ink, fans of his Modernist material can also find him working (solo and in collaboration) under the monikers B. Movement, Biosphere #1, Burger Industries, Ethik, SeventySeventySeven, Stardiver, Structure, The Sculpture, Trinkwasser, and most notably as Bionaut.