I must be the bearer of bad news and inform you that Motor's Klunk is perhaps the best techno CD you will hear all year.
If there was any more proof needed that we are currently living through a techno renaissance, practically every day brings new evidence to the delighted attention of interested listeners. It's happened often enough lately that I am almost getting tired of writing the same preamble to every review: just when I think the year's techno field can't get any stronger, a new disc slips into my mailbox and invites me to once again venture across the well-trod fields of hyperbolic elysium. Frankly, I'm getting sick of it -- I can't even sneeze without Kompakt or BPitch Control releasing some sort of must-hear achievement in techno science. All these good CDs are downright disheartening.
In which case, I must be the bearer of bad news and inform you that Motor's Klunk is perhaps the best techno CD you will hear all year. Yes, even counting A Guy Called Gerald's Proto Acid: The Berlin Sessions and the ever-reliable Kompakt's Total 7, Klunk stands out from a packed crowd. If you had told me just a couple years ago that we'd be suffering from a surfeit of sublimely good techno releases, I'd have laughed at you. But I guess if you wait long enough everything old becomes new enough -- and certainly, if the last decade and a half of electronic music history have taught us anything, it is that the constant pursuit of novelty for novelty's sake gets old after a while. Sometimes there's nothing quite so satisfying as going back to basics, and in electronic music that means techno.
Motor is the trans-continental brainchild of two producers, the Parisian Mr. No and American Bryan Black. It would be difficult to find a better CV in the current scene: they've worked with Felix Da Housecat and Princess Superstar, and provided remixes for Marylin Manson, Throbbing Gristle and legendary synth pioneers Depeche Mode. Black even worked with Prince for a time in the late '90s. I mention all this not as means of merely filling space but for the sake of context, in order to set the duo apart from much of the current crop of techno wizards. Whereas most of the modern microhouse enthusiasts live and work within fairly isolated musical communities (there are exceptions, but not many), Motor are informed by a wide array of influences and collaborators. It is to their credit that they have resisted the temptation to call in these favors and make Klunk a star-studded guest affair, but this is definitely not ascetically isolated microhouse of the type that has predominated the genre during the music's recent ascendancy. This is hard-charging, full-blooded techno the likes of which has rarely been heard in recent years, fat and sexy and downright menacing. Not a lot of glitchy half-stuttered beats here.
It's pretty easy to guess this fact from the very first track, "Black Powder". A dark acidic synth line slowly builds for almost a minute before the beat enters. It recedes, only to rise again as the beat picks up gradual momentum. Over the course of almost eight minutes it just keeps growing, getting bigger and bigger, building to a series of massive crescendos while the stark beat underneath just keeps chugging along. "Sweatbox", released last year as a single but here included as the album's centerpiece, is even more effective, consisting primarily of a throbbing 303 line that ducks and swoops out of the track while keeping time with a hostile snare shot that punctuates the methodical bass drum like machine gun fire. If you listen to the track you'll be surprised by just how minimal it actually is, while still managing to sound unmistakably huge and aggressive.
"Yak" is a subtler than those two tracks, but no less memorable. Built around an off-time vocal sample ("Hey man, have you got any gak?"), a sly electro beat marches implacably through five solid minutes of simmering heat. "Stuka Stunt", on the other hand, is only three minutes long, but what it lacks in length it more than makes up for in militaristic fervor, bringing to mind the harsh metallic procession of Primal Scream's "Swastika Eyes". The duo take a slightly more organic approach to "Botox", reminiscent of early '90s electronic body music (the type of which later devolved into goth dance music, now seen almost exclusively on Cleopatra records compilations). It definitely has the slinky feel of early Thrill Kill Kult.
Speaking of that bygone era, the album's one and only guest vocalist -- Nitzer Ebb vocalist Douglas McCarthy -- shows up for "1x1". If I didn't know better, it wouldn't be hard to mistake this for an actual lost Nitzer Ebb track from back in the day, albeit one that sounds as if it was remixed by Vitalic for extra added crunk. "King of USA" offers up a slice of a more traditional acid sound, backed by a throbbing synth-house rhythm. The album's last few tracks are progressively more chaotic and violent, with "Spazm" and "Din 13" building on layers of increasingly erratic feedback and static, before finally concluding with "En Trans". This is probably Motor's idea of a downtempo track, a disjointed, ominous and corrosive sequence of blips and synth sweeps. It sounds like nothing so much as an Autechre score for a horror movie, supremely unsettling but nonetheless quite effective.
So yeah, these Motor guys know what they're doing. It's good to see Novamute, for many years one of the premiere hard techno labels, regain some ground in a crowded marketplace. As I said, Motor are not microhouse and they don't really have a lot to do with the prevailing fashion of glitch-friendly, intricately cerebral techno. It's good to see that there's still a place for good old-fashioned havoc-wreaking dancefloor-murdering techno monsters of the kind provided here. This is the hard shit.