Lee Gamble’s most outstanding talent has always been his ability to craft profoundly abstract techno that doesn’t sound dry or academic. It’s sophisticated and weird, but not pretentiously so. That was true from the moment Gamble “arrived” back in 2012, dropping Diversions 1994-1996, an album composed entirely of fragmented 1990s jungle samples. In lesser hands, such a cut-and-paste approach might’ve sounded humanly thin, but in Gamble’s, the music had all the warmth and depth of the best ’90s jungle, capturing the feel of a slow-motion rave. Not all of Gamble’s music has dealt as heavily in nostalgia, but it’s always retained a deeply human core, a playfulness absent from so much of experimental techno.
On Flush Real Pharynx 2019-2021, the music seems to ask: how far you go before that human core is lost? How futuristic can techno become without losing its playfulness and elasticity? There isn’t an easy answer. Flush Real Pharynx is arguably the most alien and inscrutable sound-world that Gamble has created yet. It isn’t devoid of nostalgia, but it is dissonant and densely layered, a difficult listen from start to finish.
What’s more, it’s 22 tracks long—the album is a combination of three different EPs, In a Paraventral Scale, Exhaust, and A Million Pieces of You. Those first two EPs have already been with us for a while now, but the third was released on the same day as the album. There isn’t much of a binding thread between the EPs, nor are there many commonalities between one track and the next. That makes it hard—nay, impossible—to pinpoint Flush-Real Pharynx with any definitive statement.
On the first EP, In a Paraventral Scale, the lush filter sweeps of “Fata Morgana” and chimey ambience of “Folding” give way to staccato bursts of percussion and the pummeling one-note bass groove of “Moscow”. Then there’s the fractured drum programming of “Chant” and the relentless drum ‘n’ bass of “In the Wreck Room”. Tracks like these take Gamble’s penchant for noise to the most extreme levels, barely leaving the dancefloor intact. By the time the EP’s ambient closer “Many Gods, Many Angels” comes around, we feel disoriented—mercilessly tossed between the spacious and the claustrophobic, the human and the machinelike.
At times, it’s worth asking whether or not all the noisiness and disorientation get in the way of the music itself. Gamble’s inspiration for Flush-Real Pharynx came from the concept of “semioblitz”, which refers to “the aggressive onslaught of visual & sonic stimuli of contemporary cities and virtual spaces.” Gamble does what he sets out to do: chronicle the hyper-real, thousand-MPH nature of life in such spaces, but does it make for compelling music?
Exhaust, the second EP, seems especially riddled with bells and whistles. “Envenom” opens with another kick-ass drum ‘n’ bass groove, but the explosion FX at the end feels overdone and indulgent. The pitch-shifted vocals on “Saccades” are buried under four minutes of cut-up drum programming that never amount to any definable beat. It’s clear Gamble is aiming for sonic overstimulation, but that overstimulation works best when it’s balanced with memorable grooves and rich atmospherics.
The best moments on Flush-Real Pharynx are where Gamble achieves this balance, as on “Switches”, where rapid-fire kick drums are paired with rich, warm pads, or “Empty Middle Seat”, which fuses old-timey piano with a series of engine-like synths. The last EP, A Million Pieces of You, probably does the best job of staying balanced throughout. “You Left a Space” is sheer downtempo bliss, and “Hyperpassive” has an aura of purring ambience that is perfect for getting lost in.
Even if the journey to this point in the album may not always be rewarding, it’s hard to deny that it ends well. Flush-Real Pharynx is a challenging listen, and it may be humanly thin at times, but it isn’t wholly foggy and impenetrable. There are glimpses of Gamble’s genius here and there, even if you have to sift through 22 tracks to experience it fully.