Ah, the sound of independence, of a group of musicians allowing themselves to make music that’s dirty, beat-heavy, and so damn fresh it hurts. Tolcha’s Gestalt exists in its own soundspace, an album whose primary residence is quite obviously hip-hop, though it feels free to detour into the more specialized areas of dub, glitch, rock, and even soundscape-esque ambience, none of which even sounds remotely out of place thanks to a sound that consistently exemplifies the word “sinister”.
Tolcha itself is a talented quartet responsible for every bit of the instrumental backing and production that can be heard on Gestalt. By themselves, they make some pretty brilliant music, and could well one day be responsible for one of the classic instrumental hip-hop/dub/whatever albums of our time. Whether it be the IDM-influenced “Damage” (which first appeared on last year’s Fokus 12”), the dub-heavy “Bild Zeit”, or the slowed-down, almost drum ‘n bass “Icarus”, the core members of Tolcha take great pains on Gestalt to prove that they can carry a song without any help. And they do—despite the fact that each one of the aforementioned tracks breaks the five-minute barrier, each one of those tunes pull you in and force you to keep listening, thanks to an oh-so-subtle sense of build that keeps you wondering just where the song could go next. In the case of “Icarus”, it’s the live drums that push the song into ‘wonderful’ territory, while “Damage” just keeps layering disparate sounds on top of each other until the bottom drops out and we’re left with a bass drone and a beat.
And “Bild Zeit”? Well, it’s mostly just chillout-dub designed to help us come down after the utterly brilliant first half of the album.
That first half features Gestalt‘s strongest batch of guest appearances, not least the welcome presence of Maxx (formerly of The Goats and currently of Incognegro) on a track called “Tomchak”. It’s a standout on the album, perhaps in spite of and perhaps because of Maxx’s refusal to come up with a rhyme that’s socially aware or particularly artistic—there’s something oddly catchy about a hook that says “My job blows, and your job blows / If everybody knows, then everybody go.” He switches up rhythms in his rhyming without skipping a beat, even throwing in a couple of inter-line rhymes while he’s at it. The fact that it’s over a glitchy, distortion-filled hip-hop production track doesn’t hurt, and in a perfect world, this is what they’d be bumpin’ at the club.
On the more socially aware side is RQM, who makes no less than four appearances over the course of Gestalt. RQM has a much more new school rhyme style than Maxx, tied to the beat but never limited by it, his thick British accent adding dignity to his occasionally surreal rhymes of the rise of the underbelly. “The spirit is somewhere between us / Subtle tension like Mars to Venus / Like me and my queen is,” he raps in the excellent, fast-paced “Fokus”, never afraid to look beyond the superficial into the extraterrestrial that exists among us. Other fantastic guest spots are turned in by Sasha Perera, Ras T-Weed, and German electro-duo Neonman, whose “Corridors of Power” is notable on this highly programmed album for its live band feel, with drums, guitars, and bass that make the song sound more dirty rock than hip-hop. That Neonman’s vocalist sounds more like a heavily medicated indie rocker than the hip-hoppers that adorn the rest of the disc only adds to the distinction.
Really, though, as well as the instrumental work and the guests on Gestalt hold up to intense scrutiny, this is an album not about individual pieces, but about mood. Specifically, Gestalt is a masterwork of darkness, an album that just oozes dystopian premonition from its every pore. Sure, some of the lyrical turns aren’t as dark, and the album occasionally borders on fun, but that dark undercurrent never leaves. All the unsuspecting listener can do is choose to embrace it—and when that listener does embrace it, that listener will soon come to love it.
So turn up the bass, welcome dusk, and enjoy the ride.