There’s a lot to be said for Ilian Tape’s recent fertile spree. Last year was studded with impressive releases that continue to age extremely well – there was a dense, dark full-length from the Zenkers themselves right out the gate, as well as a couple of brilliant dancefloor-centric EPs later in the year from two of the rosters heaviest hitters, Andrea and Stenny.
The label is ripe with ideas right now – you’d think melding Techno with crunchy breakbeats and lo-fi textures would sound a bit contrived, but very little about this developing aesthetic feels like a monochrome tribute to the sounds of yore. Paul Woolford could learn a thing or two.
Skee Mask isn’t a stranger to the label, in fact this is the third year running he’ll be putting material out via Ilian. But this release sets itself apart, and not just because it’s his first full-length. Electronic Music LPs can be hit and miss – an hour of club-centric, four-to-the-floor material is pretty hard to keep interesting, and not every artist deals well with the structural abstraction that is required of a more diverse and compelling release. Skee Mask does, and peerlessly.
There’s a lot going on in this record, but it is all laid out very carefully, presented in a way that draws the listener inexorably in. There are no hooks here – you wouldn’t expect any – but the pacing makes for a compelling listen that pulls you from one compositional idea to the next. The beginning of the album provides a great example – the first three tracks bring things slowly to a simmer, moving through the understated, ambient textures of Everest into the slow-marching dirge of Autotuned, before bringing things to a full boil. The fourth track – also the record’s namesake – takes things in a new direction with a pristine breakbeat, long-decay kickdrums booming away beneath razor sharp hi-hats. There’s Techno to be had here, but there’s also a lot of reinterpretation of the core elements and aspects of that genre. Melczop 2 is another highlight, broken jungle superimposed onto a backdrop of soaring atmospherics.
If I had to, I could come up with some minor complaints. The kicks are quite punchy and toppy, which doesn’t work as well for the straight four-to-the-floor tracks as it does for the sparser ones. I also think there’s a noticeable aural disconnect between the very prominent, compressed beats and the warmer, more spacious melodic aspects of the album, though I’m not wholly convinced that’s not by design. Tracks like South Mathematikz are anchored on this contrast.
This is a gorgeous record. It’s esoteric without being inaccessible, understated without being dull – it pushes sonic boundaries without ever being truly abrasive, and it does all of this while unfolding a collage of electronic composition that is so cohesive and well-executed that it practically narrates itself. I suspect this album will end up on more than a couple end-of-year lists – and its only March – so go give it a listen.