The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Reviews

Hauntologists
Hauntologists Albert Freeman , August 10th, 2015 11:10

Add your comment »

Although it's interesting to do so, chasing the individual tendrils of the work of Hauntologists members Jay Ahern and Stefan Schneider does not yield a mystic revelation about their work together. His connection to Hardwax and well-documented, twisting discography considered, Ahern has always kept a low and mostly-independent profile, releasing exclusively on his own labels at consistently high quality, and his return to the States after a long period based in Berlin went almost unnoticed. The 20 years of studio time shows through very clearly in his work, probably most famously with his Cheap and Deep Productions and Add Noise aliases, but he's had well-deserved associations with major figures like Carl Craig since he started. Most famous as the dub-leaning Mapstation and half of To Roccoco Rot, Schneider's background is even harder to narrow down, having been in and out of a slew of increasingly electronic-oriented bands since the late 80s. As Hauntologists, they've been making the kind of low-key, artistic, and barely-publicised records that Hardwax excels at since 2008, and their debut album Hauntologists is an excellent if-odd way to remove the shroud from a project that so far has excelled at staying mostly in the shadows.

Predictably, this compilation of new and previously released material from the duo doesn't play so much differently than their highly-rated back catalogue, an enjoyable spin through the odder areas of minimal techno and house with plenty of unusual influences. Villalobos, Dan Bell, and many others have found fertile ground in similar ideas, where minimalism makes the boundary between techno and house vague, without succumbing to the mind-numbing genre restrictions that have become tech-house. Indeed, given his roots in the States, it's likely that Ahern takes a certain pride in such a categorisation. It's the details that make this work, and Hauntologists is nothing if not saturated in microscopic, rich, detail, the product of a collaboration between two longtime veterans who each, in different areas, have few peers respectively.

Founded about the same time as Cheap and Deep Productions and, from the sound, espousing a similar analogue fetish, Hauntologists are seemingly a very live, straight-to-tape collaboration, and one that in some ways refers back to Ahern's more minimal, mid-2000s sound. Classic Roland gear is in full effect, most noticeably on the drum machines and basslines, which ring and rumble with full-spectrum fatness. About half of the record is devoted towards new versions or re-releases, but as it chugs along it's quite difficult to notice differences in the production ethos. Although most of the tracks here could easily slide into DJ sets at some or other time of the night, the layers of influences brought in from jazz and further afield and the warped sonics of its more bizarre moments ('Wistful' comes to mind) also make it ideal for poring over on headphones. This is music that can sound quite different depending on what context it is heard, with noticeable psychoacoustic elements in the shifting layers and delays.

At its most conventional – 'Brooklyn', a version of 2013's 'Brooklyn Haunt', or 'Sustain', the classic drum machine workouts and overall druggy ambience don't run far from Ahern's solo work, but it's by far the minority of the record. The rest runs into far stranger territories, where the duo very audibly hit their stride and run with it. The weirdness often starts out subdued and builds to bizarre climaxes over the course of the track. 'Hush''s jazzy scales, pendulous bass, and heavily-tweaked vocal sample are more peculiar than alarming when it begins, but the triplet-based acid line that enters later on manages to derail the entire proceedings by overwhelming the other rhythmic elements by track's end. They're not always so kind, however. Pieces like 'Suspend' take ample concentration to assemble into the techno they actually are, with wobbly, growling sub-bass, bleepy high notes, wooden, heavily altered piano clunks, and the jerky, stereo-panned hat patterns all combining to disorienting effect. 'Turned' takes the groups name literally, the pulsating, filtered white noise solo and spooky held tones barely kept steady by the slow, minimalistic drums, the entire assembly eerily organic and darkly, hauntingly beautiful.

Like the past work of the two participants here, there are a lot of threads to unravel through the eleven tracks of Hauntologists. As closer 'Rain' sets in, the dulled-marimba tones of the lead melody rubbing against an insistent, simplistic rhythmic foundation, while bizarre electronic accents rise and fall in the mix around it. It gives one last reminder of what makes Ahern and Schneider's work so enveloping. Keeping a precise balance between functional elements and far-past-the-floor experimentation, depending on mood, settings, and situation, it reveals different characters at each listen. Their work together was impressive in smaller doses before; taken in one large serving, it very audibly adds up to more than the sum of its parts.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.