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Negative Fascination



Whilst almost certainly one of the most pretentious collectives to have emerged in techno over the past few years, there can be little doubting the quality of the now defunct Sandwell District's output, and the way in which it reconnected post-punk, noise and industrial music with techno on a level not seen since the 1980s. Juan Mendez was always especially good at achieving this balance, his slow motion synth melodies adding a fragile humanity to the factory built sounds of Sandwell Sampler 02 and his beautiful remix of Planetary Assault Systems 'Bell Blocker'. Now, freed from whatever constraints working within the Sandwell aesthetic might have placed on him, he has confidently indulged the aforementioned post-punk influences with a new LP on noise label Hospital Productions.

We start, appropriately, with a soundscape. Saturated strings slowly and ominously build over rapid flutters of percussion and distorted vocal samples, with high frequency feedback and hisses washing around the mix. Everything is drenched in the factory-sized reverb that seems to be a signature of Mendez. This is followed by 'Invocation of Lust', where Mendez brings a kick into play for the first time, albeit one drenched in distortion, and again the tune owes as much to the likes of Coil as to the genre invented by that other Juan from Detroit. The swirls of noise, feedback and vocal samples carry over from the previous track and the key signature of the mournful string melodies remains.

After a while you begin to realise that this is an album designed to be listened through in one go. Each new number introduces something additive to what's gone before; a broken and dusty drum machine here, a new drone there, but always with motifs carrying over. Even when changes are abrupt, such as with the sudden aggression of 'Strange Attractor', we can detect these threads of commonality running beneath.

As the record continues we do get some rather symphonic mood and tempo changes, with the wonderfully crafted penultimate track 'A Path Eternal' being a strong example. A simple exploration of cosy chords dropped into spring reverb, it grows eerie as a detuned melody emerges in a synth line that constantly modulates between sounding like a human voice and electronic instrument to chilling effect. Mendez oozes as much confidence in these delicate moments as he does in the startlingly aggressive tracks.

The final track is the closest to what you might have expected on a Sandwell release from Silent Servant. Named 'Utopian Disaster (End)', it even has a suitably pretentious name, but in truth, one that summarises the atmosphere of euphoric armageddon that lurks behind most of Mendez's output. This one could certainly be used to delicious effect on a receptive dancefloor, an onslaught of rhythmically complex arpeggiators and pulsing, brash drum patterns run for eight minutes before disintegrating into the simple phasing guitar riff that brings the album to an appropriate end. An awesome album. Don't let its brevity at a little over half an hour distract you from quite how much it packs in.

by Now Then Sheffield