For such a stridently ascetic genre, techno music is surprisingly dominated by fashion. Different sounds and modes come and go every few years, with different styles passing in and out of vogue over the constant backdrop of a pulsing electronic bassline. The difference usually boils down to said bassline, and whether or not it is hard or soft, pulsing or staccato, deep or tinny. These qualifications may seem like so much Greek to the uninitiated, but for those in the know they can mean the difference between this year’s model and last year’s bargain bin. You have to be able to tell your Richie Hawtin from your Plastikman, and your early Plastikman from your late Plastikman. (Additionally, I should probably mention the fact that Hawtin and Plastikman are actually the same person, which should give you an idea of how pervasive the idea of constant change is in the field.)
John Tejada is a perfectly example of the genre’s peripatetic nature. Logic Memory Center is only Tejada’s tenth album, and it represents as clear an about-face from previous material as possible. 2003’s Fairfax Sake was synth-heavy deep house, while Logic Memory Center is a more intricate and melodic affair. The influence of electronic / indie rock crossover acts like the Postal Service is also evident, as the presence of occasional vocals—once a no-no for techno purists—indicates. (The influence of the Postal Service is more than merely a guess, as that group’s electronic mastermind Jimmy Tamborello shows up for a cameo on “Everything Will Be OK”.)
The album starts strong with “Strange Creatures”, featuring the voice of Kimi Recor (of the Invisibles). This track gives a you good taste of what the album holds: crisp, slightly melancholy techno that brings to mind a slightly less visceral variation of the classic Detroit sound, with a slight taste of electro. Recor’s presence is similar to that of Miss Kittin, albeit with less sex and more austerity.
“Everything Will Be OK”, featuring the aforementioned Tamborello as well as James Figurine on vocals, brings to mind Royksopp’s mixture of frosty electronic distance and warm, emotive vocals. This comparison is also brought to bear on “Alone With You”, which features Carl Finlow on the peculiarly emo-tive vocals (“Taste the teardrop from your cheek, / Give me strength when I am weak”).
The three vocal tracks point towards a far more involved thematic life for Logic Memory Center than you would expect from the average techno release. Usually, instrumental techno acts on similar principles to conventional symphonic music, wherein the precision of poetic lyrics is replaced by the abstract associations of pure music. But any time vocal elements are introduced, the music itself snaps into sharp focus as the lyrical content provides emotional context. It’s an interesting effect when applied to such a traditionally wordless genre, as the melancholy words color the music’s sharp and precise structure, revealing a world of crystalline precision and empathetic emptiness.
The album’s all-digital nature dictates the mood, and the mood is intricate. Designed and conceived totally in a digital world, the tracks reveal themselves as unerringly complex designs, substituting the weighty oomph of a deep bassline for the cerebral precision of abstract syncopation. Tracks like “Possessive Patterns” and “This Fake Place” begin to edge towards the world of IDM, with delicate percussive patterns offset against otherworldly melody lines. When the beats become more pronounced, as on “Loose Change”, they are strangely emaciated, crisp and hollow with almost no sustain. It’s an interesting effect, even if it does tend to remove an already intellectual genre one step further from the primal impulses embodied by a full-figured bass drum.
Logic Memory Center is a good album that rewards repeated listenings. If it suffers, it suffers from a preoccupation with the structure of the music at the expense of the energy—a cardinal sin in the world of techno.
// Notes from the Road
"Saul Williams played a free, powerful Summerstage show ahead of his appearance at Afropunk this weekend.READ the article