Sandwell District - "Falling the Same Way" (Feed-Forward)
In the beginning, it was highly limited white label 12” singles with no identification save a stamp of the name and a fax number, released with no discernible schedule. Then it was the remixes and re-edits of songs that hadn’t even officially appeared yet. Then there was the unhelpful, Situationist International-inspired blog with starkly moribund, tangential imagery. Then, the half-truths and distortions of press interviews. Then, an announcement of two full-lengths by the end of 2010, which turned into one and a “test session,” which then got delayed with problems at the pressing plant, which then sold out on pre-order with a pliant release date anyway. Early reports had it as the best album of the year that no one heard.
The unaccommodating, deliberately difficult, downright dejecting lack of information that remained the focus of Sandwell District’s approach for most of the last eight years isn’t new, of course. Underground Resistance, Basic Channel and Redshape are just three names that have scuttled personality for propellant techno. The thing with Sandwell is that they didn’t particularly care to clarify what was going on with any aspect of the music. Downwards label founder Karl O’Connor (a.k.a. Regis) was part of an entity that also included cohorts Peter Sutton (Female), Dave Sumner (Function) and Juan Mendez (Silent Servant).
But who else was involved? Where were the original versions of these songs? Was it a group or a label? What, exactly, was all the hot fuss over? Somewhere in the small hours of Dec. 22, Feed-Forward finally provided some answers. Typically concise, Where Next? posted a monochromatic image of the LP with the caption, “Patience is a virtue……”
So it is. Feed-Forward delivers — at long last — on the promise of the collective’s stray singles and its members’ obvious abilities for a sure-fire club burner. There’s a great deal to enjoy here, paced brilliantly and seamlessly sliding around an established framework of cold industrialism, deep dub and airy ambient. In listening to the opening “Immolare” trilogy, one can hear both Eno’s influence in its beatless bits and some of Warp’s early, more aggressive releases in the thump of “Immolare (Main).” Just past the opening 12 minutes, “Grey Cut Out” subverts expectations with an elusive rhythm and less confrontational sound, ably demonstrating the collective’s sharp ear for detail in both production and pace. The cyclical nature of the percussion, however, never really departs (even on both sides of the Tim Hecker-esque “Readymade” 7” that accompanied pre-orders).
You’re fully five songs into this album before the expected thump finally takes hold, but by the time “Speed + Sound (Endless)” wraps things up half an hour later, the reason this album is so cherished among techno heads becomes clear: It is for them. As opposed to recent club crossovers like, say, Ellen Allien or Pantha du Prince, Sandwell District cares nothing for mind-blowing theatrics or daredevil drama. Even Regis, Sandwell’s de facto jefe, has admitted his own shortcomings. In some ways, it shows: There are no vocals, there are no bells (or whistles), and there are no obviously superior tracks — Feed-Forward plays unapologetically close to its creators’ restrained strengths and only takes chances within the well-trod confines of techno’s early millennial excursions.
That may not win you a great deal of fans beyond the genre’s toplofty tastemakers, but anyone willing to give this album even a single listen will be pleasantly surprised by a hypnotic mind-trip best experienced in headphones or beside sizable speakers. As with Shackleton or the best of Ostgut Ton’s camp, Feed-Forward effortlessly shifts between ambient, industrial, minimal and dub to remain as evasive as its creators. In a time when oversaturated self-promotion seems to be the future of the industry, Sandwell District presents an album and an aesthetic that thrives on the music above all else.