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Germ in a Population of Buildings Skye Butchard , May 18th, 2023 08:34

On her follow-up to 2020’s Zoom, producer upsammy oozes confidence through restraint

Life finds a way, especially if you zoom in far enough. On the walls of multi-storey car parks, beneath frozen water, in your septic tank, and even out in space, organisms find ways to survive and multiply. Germ in a Population of Buildings brings to mind the abundant microscopic world in its title, so it’s fitting that the music itself feels like a living organism. Following Zoom, her impressive 2020 debut album, upsammy delivers a fluid collection about intelligent design and natural wonder. 

The Amsterdam-based producer has sharpened her approach to IDM and dub techno, trimming all excess, emphasising silence, and colouring each moment with detail. There really is nowhere to hide on Germ. Where her last record opted to occasionally keep itself at a distance with its gauzy synths and gentle washes of reverb, this new album is bolder in its emphasis on layered percussion and close mixing, as hinted at in a strong collection of EPs in the time since.

Opener ‘Asphalt Flows’ is gutsy. Tumbling bass fills the mix without overwhelming other elements. upsammy is a tasteful and precise producer – the kind where you could just listen to a track while tuned into one drum part and still have a fun time. Despite the precision, the secret weapon is her sound selection. Every element is fresh and energetic. That keeps even the headiest moments from sounding like a stylistic exercise. The more aggressive ‘Constructing’ maintains a sense of levity and vibrancy that sets it apart from more stonefaced corners of IDM.

Crucially, there’s shape and intention to the builds on these tracks. Zoomed in, you might just take this record to be a pristine collection of high-definition sounds, but there’s clear purpose and tension as sounds come in and out of focus. ‘Green Lung’ is an example of this in action, as it grows more menacing with its shifts in tempo and stuttering samples. It’s a refreshing off-world version of the genres it subtly references. 

Elsewhere, excitement bubbles under the surface on the title track, a rare synth-led moment built on ear-catching risers and harmonic tension. It seems to fizzle out before reaching catharsis. In truth, a few more moments of pay-off could give the record even more shape and replayability, especially as it ventures into a looser back-half. 

Still, few are doing it like upsammy. She oozes confidence through restraint. On closer ‘Square to Sphere’, she jams over little but a two bar melody and a few micropops and snaps. But zoom in a bit, and there’s a world in there.