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A Guy Called Gerald
Tronic Jazz: The Berlin Sessions Noel Gardner , June 4th, 2010 07:21

Absorbing this album, the eighth studio effort in the snaking solo career of Gerald Simpson, is liable to take you on a road potholed with kneejerk opinions. Tronic Jazz: The Berlin Sessions is the first A Guy Called Gerald LP since 2006, and a companion piece of sorts to that year's Proto Acid: The Berlin Sessions – Simpson isn't the first techno auteur to be drawn to the titular city's reclaimed office space and raves which finish near midday, nor will he be the last. So has a dude whose early(ish) career saw him plant at least three flags in the virgin sand of tangential genres accepted that he's now a follower, not a leader, and looked to the Germans to point him towards wherever electronic music's Mecca currently floats?

Yeah. But no. But . . . put it this way: this isn't a minimal record. You could credibly describe it as minimalist, though – not as in Steve Reich or whoever; rather, in the way Simpson works within self-imposed limits and with only the necessary equipment to create something which, in most respects, could have been plucked from that open-ended idyll of the late 80s when house was blurring into techno and no-one really knew which was which. Isn't this a bit of a shame coming from a dude who changed British rave's game up when he frisbeed 'Voodoo Ray' into its novelty-bedecked waters; who released a jungle album (28 Gun Bad Boy) in 1992 before any of the heads commonly deemed to have birthed jungle got their shit together to that extent; who unleashed '95's ripping and giant-brained Black Secret Technology and made the results of jungle's deviation into drum'n'bass seem, for a second, a lot less variable than they were?

It is. If you're a tireless neophyte. In which case you probably won't be satisfied with anything except a can't-see-the-join blend of UK funky and witch house with a bunch of chopped-up samples of Adam Boulton reporting on the election. The rest of us can appreciate that this is a skilfully constructed and weirdly emotionally resonant album that breaks no new ground but tips its hat to classic Detroit techno moves: the three little pigs Saunderson, Atkins and Craig are hard to look past here, although you could probably invoke Blake Baxter when Simpson eschews the wistfulness and goes for the jugular, and Daniel Bell in the disc's moments of pared-back amelodic clunk. To this end he does come within tickling distance of minimal on the odd track – 'Flutter' and the bubbling 'Round Eco' to name two.

Although I'm sad to have to tell you that I'm the last person that can drop any technical knowledge about how electronic music is put together, I'm nonetheless compelled to note that from opener 'People Moover' (Gerald's spelling) onwards, the drums on this sound tremendous. The devil is in the detail, which is in the way they sound teasingly imperfect – over-reverbed or excessively wooden, compared with what we've come to expect from years of chrome-shiny club techno and, yes, Berlin minimal tackle. So this is some sort of techno equivalent of yer old folkies with the KEEP MUSIC LIVE stickers on their acoustics, hmm?

If that's what you want to call our man's dedication to switching his beats up as much as possible when he plays 'live' (scare quotes for the folkies) on laptops'n'keyboard, sure. Otherwise: nope. Rather, this incarnation of A Guy Called Gerald is situated in a headspace similar to champs like Omar S, Kyle Hall and Theo Parrish. Dudes who get that in the right context a drum machine counting out its heartbeat with pretty much nothing else for accompaniment can still be life-affirming, and who would likely second that admittedly over-quoted John Peelism that "life has surface noise".

Tronic Jazz: The Berlin Sessions isn't exactly a new frontier for electronic music, or even deliberately back-facing electronic music. Gerald Simpson has already cemented his place in the form's hall of fame without having to make this album, or Proto Acid or any of his recentish twelve-inch teamups with Mia (the German one) and Cassy – but, before you get your final kneejerk in there, that doesn't mean that he gets a free pass because of his achievements past. This is a lush, if long, album constructed with evident love and a sheaf of neat jams for anyone who recognises the historical power of a UK-US-Germany axis. Dance music history, that is.