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DeepChord Presents Echospace - Liumin

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Artist: DeepChord Presents Echospace

Album: Liumin

Label: Modern Love

Review date: Jun. 21, 2010

Echospace’s first album, The Coldest Season, earned its classic status among techno heads quickly. In a way, its appeal is genre-specific: it solidifies some of dub techno’s claims, particularly the promise of consciousness-altering deepness and repetition that Basic Channel embodies. But 14 years after "Phylyps Trak II," Echospace were onto something entirely their own, which sort of messes with the chronology of techno. The Coldest Season collects (and re-frames) four otherworldly 12"s that Rod Modell (DeepChord) and Steven Hitchell (Soultek) put out on the Modern Love label in 2007. The tracks have a strange retro-futuristic appeal, which, on the surface, has little to do with either producer’s previous work. Echoing streams of static languidly pan across the stereo field, giving way momentarily to faintly discerned beats backed by subliminal basslines, before collapsing into the void again.

Echospace creates an aural cosmos that manages to sound as alien as it does human. The same could be said of much techno, but on The Coldest Season, the formal aspects of techno (kick drum, synths) bob and dissolve in a sea of static. It’s a Slavoj Žižek-esque dialectical reversal of the logic that humans and technology are somehow against nature. Nature is, after all, as much a human construct as Modell and Hitchell’s respective hometowns of Detroit and Chicago. The stasis of Echospace’s music — created on vintage analog equipment, and using tape echo to great effect — evokes the chaos of deep space or a harsh winter so effectively because of its opaque, human abstraction.

Three years later, these two have returned with Liumin. The LP maintains that Coldest Season affect, but in place of that album’s celestial reference points (track titles include "Ocean of Emptiness" and "Abraxas"), Echospace presents us with a different space to wander around in: the hypercity. Field recordings from Tokyo captured by Modell are the album’s source material, but there are still some patches of snaking tape echo on Liumin‘s first track, "In Echospace." The blanket of snow that covered its predecessor is absent for the remainder of the album, replaced by a grimy neon flicker.

Although Liumim drifts through the city, it pays little attention to people, focusing instead on the late-capitalist human ecology that Frederic Jameson describes in his book Valences of the Dialectic:

    We have indeed secreted a human age out of ourselves as spiders secrete their webs: an immense, all-encompassing ceiling … which shuts down visibility on all sides even as it absorbs all the formerly natural elements in its habitat, transmuting them into its own man-made substance. Yet within this horizon of immanence we wander as alien as tribal people, or as visitors from outer space, admiring its unimaginably complex and fragile filigree and recoiling from its bottomless potholes, lounging against a rainwall of exotic and artificial plants or else agonising among poisonous colours and lethal stems we were not taught to avoid.

Indeed, Liumin makes a great soundtrack to that all-important philosophical practice, the walk. The album has a more pronounced "song" feel than Season; every track except the first and last are beat-driven. While it doesn’t drift into ambient territory as often, the instruments are treated to sound run-down, dingy and ragged. Sewer reverb gives a gelatinous feel to the most serene cut here, "Burnt Sage," whose off-kilter melodic loop and solid bass drum thump float free of the album’s heavier moments. "BCN Dub," on the other hand, modulates dance music’s standard 4/4 beat into a dominating lurch along the lines of Throbbing Gristle’s "Discipline," while a dub reggae horn section strobes in the background. It sounds pretty destroyed and crazy, but it keeps up the same kind of tension that makes The Coldest Season excellent — only instead of setting the listener adrift in a hissing ocean of noise, Echospace barrages the listener with patterns that don’t totally gel. Like on the queasy "Maglev," the beat and whiplash-inducing swirls of echo phase in and out of making sense, keeping the track’s — and the album’s — momentum in check.

This might not be the album fans were expecting after Echospace’s tremendous debut, but it’s a lateral step that doesn’t let the listener get too comfortable. Though they’ve ditched some of the sonic similarities to the metallic Basic Channel/Chain Reaction sound, Echospace still produces sonic hallucinations and fever dreams.

By Brandon Bussolini

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