The landscape of minimal techno progresses at such a rate that it’s difficult not to consume every release – whether LP, EP, single, 7″, etc. – by purely seeking out what it does or does not add to the genre’s unofficial meta-narrative. A record’s subtleties can can be diminished by simple blanket expectations. It’s as if each release is there for us to take away what little it might uniquely offer and to build upon without holding a place of its own unless artists are able to meet the lofty delineations of “watershed.” The field is packed enough for that Darwinian dynamic to hold some weight. But, even with the greatest releases, whatever’s singular is quickly absorbed and we move on only to point back to those documents as temporal markers for prescient trends and ideas.
I’m generalizing of course, but with Roman Flügel’s excellent debut under his given name, Fatty Fingers, it’s hard not to be a little cynical toward the possibility of it being overlooked. Fatty Fingers tends toward sonic flavorings and production intricacy as to be more identifiable by its pure aural physicality (gooey kick drums and chewy synth flourishes melting into your ear – this is a headphone album) rather than its structure or approach, both of which are very indebted to minimal’s gravitation toward lengthy understatement. Flügel is obsessed with a sense of space and detail. Some of the most dramatic moments on Fatty Fingers are the changes in volume and depth of a single synth hook across a whole track as it slowly squelches in and out of immediate audibility.
Flügel is perhaps best known for his singles and 12″s under various monikers (Soilent Green, Alter Ego, etc) delegated to his varying sonic interests. He’s a veteran producer and DJ with enough full-length collaborations and mixes to hold precedent for a full-length. It’s telling, then, that Fatty Fingers is his first released without an alias. In theory, it gives him a chance to center and reset things without any aspirations beyond his own swath of interests – all of which are all on display here.
Fatty Fingers is able to confidently explore its possibilities where Flügel’s earlier work often exhausted them. The record is at its best on songs like “How To Spread Lies” and the masterful “Song With Blue” where a languishing layer of distant synths curl abstractly around the glacial foreground melodies and motifs creating a microcosmic self-contained universe where the songs’ jazzy idiosyncrasies disassemble into a ghostly three-dimensional dance. There are still songs like “The Improviser” that revel in Flügel’s more functional style. The song’s jagged, caffeinated synth stab does feel a little bit overused at nearly eight-minutes, but Flügel’s aesthetic choices like the sticky hand claps and crackling atmospherics are otherwise an aural massage to keep the listener content.
While Fatty Folders mainly sticks with coldly bubbling synths like splashes of a steaming ice melt, there’s an undercurrent of jazz-driven microhouse – downbeat organs and silhouetted pianos crop up here and there to fill in the record’s stilled negative space. The syrupy, comforting bass pulse and muffled 4/4 kick are a pervasive daze of cough medicine holding these tracks together. Flügel often lets the low-end remain solitary and disconnected while clicking hi-hats and reverberating hand drums sit on top. A delayed synth hook might announce itself every few whole notes or a soloing arpeggio might bounce into view for a few measure, but these elements’ placement are noticeable and central where everything else embeds itself. This is an album for listeners more interested in individual sounds than in form. There’s not a lot to take with you as you leave Fatty Fingers, but when you’re there it’s a rich and comforting feast of hushed detail like softened, half-asleep whispers over a steady fuzzy heartbeat.