Æ / Lefhanded Fuqs / Б
, December 13th, 2016 10:50
While we’re all for honesty and lack of PR bilge, you can’t help but wonder if Bjarki's people might have gone a little bit too far towards the unvarnished truth in the introduction to his triptych of 2016 album releases for Nina Kraviz’ трип label. These, we are told, aren’t albums in the traditional sense, but instead some kind of liberation for Bjarki’s “burgeoning hard drives”; relief for a man who routinely make 10 tracks a day.
The spiel for Б, the first of the three albums to be released, back in June, goes even further, claiming that the 13 tracks are work “Bjarki never had any intention of releasing”. Steady on! I almost bought a copy! And yet behind this bucket of commercial cold water lies an intriguing selection of musical mischief, one that gives a far better idea of the breadth of Bjarki’s talents than his one-dimensional dance floor hit of 2015, ‘I Wanna Go Bang’.
Belying the triptych’s apparently wayward attitude towards curation, each of the three albums represents a different side to Bjarki's character. Б - the title a reference to ravers’ desire to “be in the moment”, apparently - concentrates on his more ravey leanings, with tracks cherry picked from Kraviz’ DJ sets. Rave revivals, of course, have become as much of a cliché in modern dance music as abusing TV theme tunes was to actual rave and you may cringe slightly at seeing titles like ‘Here It Comes Can You Feel It 92 Hoover 2’ and ‘Marsian Raver’ (although, frankly, anyone who wants to cast that particular stone should probably try their hand at coming up with song titles in Bjarki’s native Icelandic first).
At its best, though, the music on Б transcends such revivalism, wringing something genuinely new out of the old rave building blocks. ‘Here It Comes Can You Feel It 92 Hoover 2’ uses the hoover noise so beloved of Joey Beltram but makes it sound like the hoover is being slowly - and rather painfully - squeezed out of an old tube of toothpaste while someone makes rhythmic contact with a steel girder in the background. ‘Travel In Space’, meanwhile, starts with a bass riff so wilfully crude it brings to mind peak Altern-8, only for the song to gradually unfurl, spilling mutant breaks, whistle sounds, confused babbling and the wonderful sound of cellophane being stretched in its wake, capturing the sickening thrill of rave without being overly faithful to its vital ingredients.
Not everything on Б is so innovative: ’As You Remember’ is a kissing cousin to Future Sound of London’s ‘Papua New Guinea’, all airy synths and the snap of the Funky Drummer (as well as the same Nasa samples employed by The Orb on ‘Supernova at the End of the Universe’), while Midi 14-Aug-2 doesn’t crib the Aphex Twin in name alone, thanks to a familiar mixture of detuned melody and spidery rhythm. But, a couple of rather boring tracks aside, Б manages to pull off the all-too-rare trick of being rave-indebted without wallowing in the historical waters of nostalgic returns.
Such Aphex-ery continues on Lefhanded Fuqs, the second of the three albums in the series. Opener ‘Fimm Atta Atta Fimm Fimm Tveir Tveir’ is reminiscent of Hangable Auto Bulb-era Richard D. James, complete with chirpy synth melodies and stuttering breaks, while the title track suggests the tin-mine thump of ‘Quoth’ aligned to the kind of deconstructed trance riff employed by Rustie and Hudson Mohawke. Elsewhere, Lefhanded Fuqs houses the more experimental material from the Bjarki archive, which gives the producer a chance to show off his mastery of genres beyond the strident techno with which he made his name, including dub ('Fkakafsnow Tromma 2012'), sprawling dread ('EL') and ambling beats ('+4531704090 2’).
Such admirably loose attitude to genre is to be welcomed. Unfortunately, though, the end result is the weakest album of the three. Bjarki may have an undeniable way with sky-scraping melody and experimental twists but these prove all too rare on Lefhanded Fuqs. The gorgeous 'Thumb' aside there's nothing here to match the melodic charm of Æ’s title track or the experimental zest of Б's ‘Travel In Space’. Instead, Lefhanded Fuqs feels rather stretched, with many tracks overstaying their welcome. Suffice to say that if you were compiling a playlist of the best of the three albums, you wouldn't look far beyond 'Thumb''s three minutes 45 of melodic ecstasy to represent Lefhanded Fuqs.
Æ, by contrast, would be out in force. The third of the three albums, it compiles “music that is at its core quite simple, with restrained instrumentation, made on hardware” - a.k.a. the Bjarki you probably know best from his appearances on Kraviz' mixes. This is a modus operandi that suits Bjarki well, highlighting his ability to wring oddly psychedelic and always enthralling sounds from his equipment. Such is his skill, in fact, that even when a song doesn't entirely connect - as on the promising but overly extended 'B07' - there is always something to get your teeth into, in this case some weird backward spraying noises.
Largely, though, the music on Æ connects quite splendidly: opener 'B03' somehow manages to wring a new sound - in this case a quasi obscene, worm-like wiggle - from the most abused music in techno, the TB303; the title track has a gorgeous melody, which lollops beatifically along, never falling quite where you expect it; and ‘Sdfghiu0yöt0r597dc’ is a brilliant mix of dark and light, oddity and dancing, breakbeats and elemental bass drum thump. Best of all though is ‘Fantacid [Murrrrsdfeadmix]’, which combines spoken-word poetry from doom-laden German Chanteuse Nico, a snatch of Mr. Oizo’s Flat Beat drums and what sounds like a harmonium to create the best bit of spaced-out techno since Mr. Fingers’ ‘Qwazars’.
That this song proves such an unlikely triumph says a lot about Bjarki, a producer who rarely takes the obvious route from A to B when a scenic diversion through C to F is also available. Evidently, this idiosyncratic approach also applies to his album release strategy: Æ, Lefhanded Fuqs and Б are respectively great, disappointing and admirable; over their combined 41 tracks there is more than enough melodic verve, atmospheric élan and experimental skill to confirm Bjarki as a major talent, whose skills extends far beyond the darkened thump of ‘I Wanna Go Bang’. But they also house enough in the way of failed experiments and general dullery to make you wonder if a three-album release was the best way to showcase Bjarki’s abilities.
Then again, that’s what playlists are for and you imagine Bjarki would be just as happy with three album releases as with zero, so long as he can keep tinkering obsessively away in his Copenhagen studio. Maybe the best thing about these three album releases, then, is that - much like Wiley’s 2010 Zip files dump - they should help to create headspace for Bjarki to sculpt new material. For this is someone who never stops moving: brilliant as ‘Fantacid’ might be, the best Bjarki track of 2016 isn’t found on any of these albums. Rather, it is the thunderous breakbeat techno of ‘Fresh Jive’, which followed hard on their heels on twelve inch in December. Bjarki just can’t sit still. And more power to him for that.