Album Reviews

Alex Smoke – Incommunicado

(soma) UK release date: 28 February 2005

We all know the arguments against techno. It’s cold, unfeeling, emotionless music for the head-nodding, chin-stroking, bedroom deck-fiddlers. So, where would the arguments, or more importantly the tunes come from to support a renaissance in the genre? After the storming of the mainstream by the former underground stars (Derrick May, Carl Cox, Fatboy, Oakenfold, Underworld and their ilk) they seemed to lose their way in the bright lights, big cities with all their distractions, collaborations and resulting lack of inspiration. Could there really be a mythical saviour lurking in his bedroom to come up with the goods. Could be!

This is essentially a one-man mission from Alex Menzies, who wrote produced and engineered this slab of glacial bedroom techno. Similar to Req‘s bedroom broken beats in its simplistic, defiantly non-commercial pursuit of vision, this is not a no-brainer, hands in the air affair. Instead, there has been some serious head-scratching to create the dense layerings of sound here.

Deep, glitchy, emotional and minimal techno fare in the style of Derrick May, a sun-kissed Balearic anthem or even the filmic stylings of soundtrack classicist, and Massive Attack collaborator, Craig Armstrong in the sweeping string dramatics of 6am. There are hints of a primitive, moody Underworld shuffle to the stuttering synths layering Don’t See The Point, but the mumbled vox lend it a darker reminiscent of early electro pioneers Cabaret Voltaire.

Lost In Sound tweaks over a nifty little acid riff, until it spills and stretches into new territories. Coda & Clang bubbles and surges with waves of phased synth. Although sonically the album can be quite samey in the use of sounds, it is working with this limited palette that makes the album hang together so well.

Amongst the techno fare there is still scope for experimentation within the genre as Jah Future demonstrates. Coming over as a broken dubby African Head Charge as heard on a malfunctioning radio randomly tuning between stations (and that’s a good sound) this is. Brian’s Lung inhabits a dark territory all of its own with ripped synths doing battle with keening tweaks over a rolling beat.

Recent single Chica Wappa rolls along with a classic old school feel (somewhere between an early New Order b-side and a dusty Detroit house track) that’s been learning new tricks behind the bike sheds. Rounding things off in style with closer Recess, this is the calming breakdown after the storm and returns things to a state of chill. Nice.

This is music for the head and the heart in all its simple/complex conundrums. It’s rare to find a techno album that can withstand the length of an album but with Incommunicado Alex Smoke has served up an album which will repay return visits. True, there are a couple of low points, where the tracks are merely average, but on the whole this is a cracking debut. Still not ready to run with the mainstream, but there’s enough here to expand his audience beyond the bedroom crowd out into the wider world.

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Alex Smoke – Incommunicado