Boring Machines Disturbs Sleep: Arc Lab : "No Spectre" (n5md)

Boring Machines Disturbs Sleep

Friday, March 02, 2007

Arc Lab : "No Spectre" (n5md)

Toronto is a city that has a place in my heart. Having spent several months there in 2005. immersed in its cultural diversity, laid-back atmosphere and friendly people, I returned for a visit late last year. It was during this brief holiday I first came across Torontonian down-tempo electronica producer Arc Lab, aka Medard Fischer. I stumbled across a rather cool record shop, Penguin Music, whose sole reason for existence, it seemed, was to cater for my tastes. It had a wall for recommended releases and I left with several shiny new cd's. One of those cd's was Arc Lab's "Nineteen Floors" and although the album wasn't particulalrly ground-breaking, it certainly piqued my interest.

Fast forward to 2007 and Arc Lab has had his new record "No Spectre" released by n5md. Firstly, I would like to nominate this album for having the best cover of the year so far. It marginally beats Tobias Lilja's evil raven eye cover, with remarkable close-up of obscured tree leaves that seem to emit more shades of green than I thought was possible. It hints at an organic sound on "No Spectre", but nothing could be further from the truth.

The press release for this states that n5md have returned to their roots with "No Spectre" and it is a predominantly machine made release, save for the occasional female vocals which crop up now and again. It is a fairly consistent effort from Fischer and he has developed some very well-honed programming skills. The production and beatwork are crisp and precise here, while the fresh synth textures and chiming melodies provide some nice flourishes. But, there is a nagging feeling that this is a lab-based production and it lacks the emotional depth of (previous n5md releases) SubtractiveLAD's "No Man's Land" or Last Days "Sea". At over an hour long it feels cloned and repetitive in places, treading over well worn paths.

But then, an album doesn't have to be ground-breaking to be enjoyable. Opener, "I'm All Vectors" is a refreshing slice of downtempo electronica statting with a couple of minutes of oriental sounding chimes, that build with static sounds before floating beats emerge in the mix. However, a number of tracks employ this strategy and the lack of variety soon detracts from Fischer's obvious production skills.

As a stand alone release, some of the songs on "No Spectre" could turn a few heads. "Versions" features cool robotic programming and chiming bell melodies, that are wrapped around with guazy synths. The muffled sample of people chatting at some bar is a nice touch before those crisp beats come back into the fray. "So Much For No Surprises", meanwhile, offers a respite from the chimes and lightweight beats. It has a rougher edge to it, even bordering on the sinister sounding. The beats are more forceful and particularly inventive and the harpsichord style melody towards the end is gorgeous.

Things pick up a little towards the end and tracks like "Plays Tim Arndt" falls into an excellent segment of uptempo beatwork, throbbing basslines and twinkling synths. While, "The Past" features some alluring female vocals, that gives the album a much-needed human touch.

"No Spectre" is by no means a poor release, any fan of the likes of Arovane, Donato Wharton or Autechre will undoubtedly enjoy this. But, given the quality of previous n5md albums, something doesn't quite click into place. It lacks the emotional impact we have come to expect from the innovative label and while it is carefully constructed and expertly produced, it is a liitle too synthetic for my tastes.

Rating - 65%

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