Colour is not always immediately associated with techno. Descriptors such as “pitch-black”, “grayscale” and so forth are commonly used as adjectives to describe the music, even seen as superlatives. ULTRACHROMA, the latest album from Kangding Ray on his own ara imprint, is a refreshing clean break from these ideas that delivers a lush and bright foray into the outer reaches of dance music. It’s a surprising sound from an artist whose releases on raster-noton and Stroboscopic Artefacts perfectly fit in with the predominantly dark, monochrome aesthetics of the labels. What hasn’t changed is the elaborate level of detail in the production, creating tracks that feel like they’re composed of sequences of minute audio sculptures.
A big influence in the sound of the album seems to be Berlin school progressive electronic, as dreamy synth arpeggios and driving bass lines abound which bring to mind the motorik pulse of the scene. As well, the timbres and textures of the music are reminiscent of the current crop of experimentalists playing with deconstructions of dance music like Caterina Barbieri, Holly Hearndon or Barker. Taking this into consideration, it must be said that this album is definitely not a collection of ambient pieces, and except for the middle section composed of the short interlude “Neo Rouge” and the beatless bleeps and bass of “Pearls & Lichens”, most of the tracks here could fit into the playlists of more adventurous DJs.
The low-end of the album is consistently impressive, both in its depth and how it’s utilized, creating a grounding effect that lets the mostly higher register melodic elements wander further, knowing that the structure of the track is solid, avoiding the cliches of directionless progressive music. This can be seen from the get-go on “Mauve Deepens”, which reins in a sparse, skittering intro after a few minutes with a particularly deep bass motif that then allows percussion to develop before dropping out and returning to formlessness for an outro. Similar ideas can be seen across the album, “Twilight Seven” pairs a bass pulse from which the heartbeat of a kick drum is slowly developed with a breakbeat, while “Antiblau” uses big bass drops to break up the melancholic pads and rambling synth bleeps that make up the rest of the track.
While generally colorful and warm, there is an undercurrent of darkness present on ULTRACHROMA, especially on the latter half of the album. The aforementioned “Antiblau” has a distinct sadness to it, and “Pervinca Lucente” is quite dark with its tense breakbeats, forlorn, dissonant synths and acid warbles, making it clear that this is still the same producer behind tracks like “Pruitt Igoe” or “Athem”. The album closer, “Sage Aqua”, on the other hand is a cathartic summation of the ideas behind the album, taking the listener back into the blissful sounds of the last 45 minutes. ULTRACHROMA is a fascinating blend of danceable physicality and ethereal beauty that comes together to create a standout release of progressive music.
ULTRACHROMA is out now on vinyl and digital from ara’s Bandcamp