London's Fort Romeau delivers a treat for progressive house fans and old-school electronica devotees alike.
Sometimes the most defiant stance to take is, somewhat counter-intuitively, not to take a stance. Mike Greene, the London-based DJ who records under the name Fort Romeau, doesn't stand opposite to the au courant sounds of build-and-drop EDM as an act of rebellion, instead favoring the lush, atmospheric sounds of early synthesized music as he simply finds them far more interesting. He's right to do so, too -- on Insides, his most mature work to date, he uses vintage analog synthesizers to craft a sound that's reminiscent of the earliest days of electronic music without ever sounding stuck in the past. The Tangerine Dream comparisons are both inevitable and flattering; Insides seems like less of a pastiche or an homage than a continuation of the work of electronica's early pioneers.
Never is this more clear than on "Lately", the album's penultimate track. Clocking in at over ten minutes long, the progressive house song builds from a simple four-on-the-floor beat, briefly seems to be heading towards '90s trip-hop territory, and veers off into psychedelic territory on the back of some absolutely gorgeous arpeggios - the elements may be familiar, but the execution is fresh and exciting. While a simple throwback would have been enough for many, Greene's curiosity could never be satisfied by merely retracing the footsteps of his forebears. Nor does he ever fall into the trap of genre purism; although Insides is a house record for the most part, he happily diverges from the formula at every given opportunity.
Much of the fun of listening to Fort Romeau's impressively layered compositions is picking out all the individual elements that make up its multi-textured soundscapes. Each song is complex without sounding busy, and close listening is rewarded richly; it's a joy to pay close attention to the ways in which the individual tracks play off each other, every song growing more complex as you look deeper into it, like a series of musical fractal patterns. Individual synth lines converge and diverge, songs moving from point A to point B as a result of many gradual changes instead of anything big and dramatic - and for the devoted listener, the experience is exhilarating throughout. There aren't any tidy four-minute bangers ready to assault the dance floor on Insides, but with so many DJs doing that already, it's all the better that Fort Romeau doesn't feel the need to compete.