[26 January 2009]
One of the most common complaints lobbed at minimal techno is that it lacks the soulful je ne sais quoi that electronic dance music is expected to have. Other than deferring to Derrick May’s designation that techno can be so stiff it’s funky, there’s Mike Shannon’s new album Memory Tree, adhering to the repetitive progressions and tweaks of minimal, with an undeniably human imprint.
Inspired by family, Memory Tree is Mike Shannon as a wide-eyed observer of the sublime and (super)natural. Beautifully complemented by the digitally deconstructed “tree” that adorns the cover, tracks like “Enero” hop to and fro with curious filter sweeps and jagged percussion glitches. “Beyond Incubation” is as warm an opener as its title would imply, embracing a womb-like swirl of primordial ticks and synth pads visited again on the de-tuned keys and buzzing harpsichord tones of “The Love Fry”. “Wolf Module” is the dynamite single of the record, all squelchy buildup of an absurdly catchy little sequence, revealing its layers as a low pass filter unveils them.
Memory Tree is an album clearly made by Shannon for himself, and possibly a few other intimately related individuals. Sometimes this produces a feeling of peering in from the outside, but the audible warmth of the record manages to prevent this from overwhelming the joyous experience of the album. Like a lamp burning late into a dark, cold and wet night, Memory Tree is proof that minimal techno is just as capably “human” a venture as any rockist medium.