Perhaps the most definitive statement Los Angeles producer Juan Mendez ever made as Silent Servant was a radio mix for Sandwell District back in 2010. The mix in question showed Mendez’s hand a little too thoroughly for dance music to ignore, slotting artists like Fad Gadget, Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, The Fall, Suicide, and The Velvet Underground all right next to each other. Mendez’s allegiance to prototypical industrial music and gothic leaning post-punk was laid bare for all to see and has since been well documented, but, barring Sandwell District’s Feed-Forward, has never found its way into the LP format. Silent Servant has been mining these sounds since the early 00s, but Negative Fascination, his debut release for noise label Hospital Productions, is the producer’s first full-length, bringing all his influences to bare and outlining a consolidated vision of grim, metallic industrial techno that couldn’t come at a better time.
At only thirty-six minutes and seven tracks, Negative Fascination is a brief document, but each cut becomes its own isolated chapter. The album is couched in clenched-fisted tension and broiling, detuned atmospheres, pulling together antique techno rhythms, chewy nickel-stringed warbles, and slithering synth textures. The track layout is straightforward enough, even stubborn, rarely changing direction and layering in subtle, ebbing textures until each become a primal, cloud-shrouded nightmare, their boundaries obscured in a black fog. Mendez stays busy in the tracks though. Negative Fascination is rich and deep and despite its sludgy, metal debris-filled sonics, the care that’s gone into its construction is readily apparent.
“The Strange Attractor” is a mess of squalling ribbons of synth noise creating jagged, quacking polyrhythms wrapped around a steady 4/4. Hissing drones peak in and out of sight, nudging against the track’s core staccato drive. The eight-minute album closer “Utopian Disaster (End)” is a steady patient climb layered with ricocheting percussion and subtly bleeding synths, its constant shifting textures giving the track a barely perceptible rise-and-fall type arc. Both tracks have a nice submerged build, an expanding bubble of smoggy synths rising from beneath. Mendez hasn’t just slapped a few shredded metal textures over some beats. There’s a patient and careful hand at work here.
Techno infused with industrial overtones is a healthy thing in 2012 thanks to artists like Labour Division, Shifted, Demdike Stare, and, of course, Mendez’s own collective, Sandwell District, but Negative Fascination has an aesthetic identity that stands well on its own. The record is tactile and raw in its treble range. Its percussive side is rough and biting and its metal-on-metal drones shine with dull, greasy reflections of light. “Invocation of Lust” is a tangle of machine arpeggios railing against the track’s edges, chittering copper-teeth textures clattering in rivulets as some ghostly synth melodies rise like curtains blocking out the sun. “Moral Divide (Endless)” is a stew of shimmering, patient brass layers over a Cluster-esque beat, a distant metallic bellow sounding like a guitar clanging against the floor. “Temptation & Desire” sounds like Joy Division meets Throbbing Gristle, its plodding tribal momentum and submerged baritone vocals drowned in tides of white noise and sun-flare synth melodies.
Negative Fascination might be the best thing of its ilk to come out this year. If only because it has the most exacting handle on the sounds it seeks to mine. Unlike many others Mendez seems to own this aesthetic instead of just seemingly borrowing from the past. It makes for one of the most challenging yet rewarding techno oddities of the year and we get the priviledge of seeing a producer honing his craft into something especially unique and cohesive.