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Obscured By The Machines: Introverted Dubs of the Izhevsk City Jason Cook , November 23rd, 2010 12:31

Hailed as Russia's most consistent source of electronic music - by its St. Petersburg-based label, Theomatic, at least - Izhevsk is a remote city built on the back of the Mother Russia's military-industrial complex. It's the birthplace of the AK-47, and the home to many factories and plants where not only assault rifles but cannons, missiles, motorcycles, and cars are produced. One unfamiliar with Izhevsk might find it odd, then, to hear that Obscured By The Machines: Introverted Dubs of the Izhevsk City doesn't berate the listener with aggressive dub similar to that which experimental industrial outfit Scorn released in the early 90s. They're not from Russia either, but Scorn just seems to go along with AKs, right? So take that precept and imagine this: You're not from Russia, and you have no concept of what goes on there, or what Russia looks like or how Russia feels. You're an American, you see. Economic hardship has all but blighted the major city in which you live. With this kind of fantasy, and rather than looking for Scorn, one may find that there's a remote kinship between most urban landscapes and that of the artists who've written music for this compilation.

This thesis works instantly upon seeing the compilation's hazy cover - a depiction of a dim lighted city with its black smoke in the air. It resembles in tone the art B12 used for their '96 Warp classic Time Tourist; and strangely, Obscured... shares some of the same sonic palette as well. There's nothing trendy about it. Absent is the minimal techno affliction that's run rife through much of mainstream electronic music these past couple years. There's no Matthew Dear; no heady abstractions from Shed. This is dub, you say - not minimal. No, Theomatic brings eleven tracks of mostly throwback dub house and techno: the kind with virtual analog pads, forgiving compression, and, in Eclectic Sound's 'Goodbye Illusion', a strong sense of nostalgia. Amberflame's 'Traces' is an outline for Green Album-era Orbital; on 08's 'Bodyhunger' we hear LTJ Bukem-inspired drumfunk simmer, and KS's 'Odin' is a rattling 4/4 ode to early mornings until a string pad channels the opening of Goldie's 'Timeless'. Later, Mr. Aztec's 'Motel Desire' quips a clicking rhythm section much like Gold Panda's 'India Lately'.

On kinship alone - and one may only make aural associations - what's heard throughout Obscured... is an idealization, and one that sounds like viewing the last smokestack in a shrinking landscape. Izhevsk is, through its music, not an unkind place. It's not the home of Osama bin Laden's favorite gunsmith: it's looking to be lionized as the bearer of wavy, chordal electronic music. Were a compilation similar to Obscured... to be released by a 'trendier' label... well, one might consider it just as earnest and introspective. History supposes that Izhevsk doesn't know, or didn't once know, itself as a less industrial state, and in that supposition is this album's charm. Places born from steel, concrete, cold and salt will seldom change into green land. Obscured...'s musicians know this and thus have written an "electronic listening music" pastoral. Are you sitting comfortably? When was the last time you played out tracks from your F.U.S.E. records? Rather than playing into an existing scene, Theomatic may have somehow renewed an old one.