On their first album since 2012, the German techno duo offer up more stark, well-produced minimalism with guests including Stereo MCs and WhoMadeWho.
Nearly two decades ago, the German duo Terranova made a name for themselves for their groovy, eclectic contribution to !K7's then-fledgling DJ Kicks mix series. That album, along with their proper debut Close the Door (1999) revealed interests in hip-hop, downtempo, house, and techno. Gradually, though, over time and a personnel change, the more soulful elements of the band's music have been whittled away, leaving a stark, minimal house sound at the forefront.
Despite its title, Restless, their first album since Hotel Amour in 2012, hardly alters the formula. The result, over ten tracks, is the telltale sound of a band that is stuck in a rut, however comfortably, perhaps the victim of its own past successes.
Once again, Terranova's music is immaculately produced. The tracks center on steady 4/4 rhythms, around which the duo drop pulsating basslines and minor-key synths. If there is any deviation or progression from the familiar, it is one of tone. Hotel Amour was at times jazzy and romantic, but Restless is dark and often murky, with plenty of doomy, descending basslines. Once again, Terranova have brought in several vocalists. Cath Coffey has worked with the band almost since the beginning, and Bon Homme, AKA Tomas Høffding from Danish art-pop band WhoMadeWho, returns as well.
The Høffding-fronted tracks are, not surprisingly, moody and lovelorn. The sometimes-emotive vocalist here keeps things low-key, resulting in a slow burn that lends Restless its most sensual moments. "Skin and Bones" with British vocalist Lydmor adding some cooing, is a highlight with a nice string riff providing some much-needed energy as well.
Staccato synths recall the classic Detroit sound on "Goldilocks", but the track has nowhere to go. Lead single "Tell Me Why" suffers the same problem, despite ominous vocals from Stereo MCs' Rob Birch. The track has a spooky atmosphere that recalls the more subterranean moments from Barry Andrews' Shriekback project. But where Andrews used a knowing charisma to sell his faux-shaman image, Birch and Terranova are entirely too self-serious.
There is one fun, funky, charismatic track on Restless, though, and it almost saves the album. "Underverse" features tribal percussion and deep-voiced Brooklynite vocalist Mandel Turner reciting his lyrics in transfixing, mantra-like fashion. "In the underverse…ancient memories come undone," he intones. Now there's the cryptic "big night music" Andrews would be proud of. The album's other lighter moment, the Ibiza-in-the-late-'80s throwback "Watch Me", is just goofy.
Elsewhere, the album takes in the swampy, dubby menace of "Labrador" and the brassy analog blasts of "Kepler 186F". That latter track is named after a surprisingly Earth-sized planet recently discovered in a far off solar system. Restless is the well-honed work of veteran craftsmen, and it has a few undeniably strong moments. Still, it too often stays too close to home.