Album Review: Illum Sphere – Titan

[3024; 2010]

“Titan.” Sometimes titles are just perfect, aren’t they? It’s a huge, sprawling beast that seems to inhale every mutant strain of bass music it can and exhales it in one exhilarating 4:20 blast. It opens with ominous rumbling and 8-bit bleeps (and crickets?) before ambient chords ascend out of the depths, dragging a twisting electro synth with them. That pulsating, spiraling synth slinks its way through the gossamer membranes of the track, contracting and expanding as needed, its bulbous, serrated ends emanating industrial howls like ghosts of rave sirens. Clinking percussion desperately tries to keep the track in line, but it bursts from its foundations for split seconds, causing little blips and beeps, interruptions, skitters, grasping feverishly at its surroundings; eventually the percussion splinters into fragments and things open out for a few moments, but a synthline this big can’t stay dormant for long, returning with hymnal chords in behind it, hovering, until the percussion comes back in, lockstep in with the riff as if resigned to the fact that it can never overcome something this massive.

On previous releases, Illum Sphere’s fallen more into the post-Dilla FlyLo camp (what are we calling this stuff these days anyway?). His two EPs on Fat City have been impressive, but this new three-track release on Martyn’s 3024 label sees him moving into slightly more dance-oriented waters, appropriating techno into his repertoire of subtly stomping tunes. ” “Go Killum” acts as a brief interlude, two minutes of mangled synth strewn about a deserted battlefield, canned, distorted gunshots taking the place of drums. The track takes neon brightness and submerges it in murky waters, the distorted beat only letting up for a few seconds of melodic prettiness before it stomps back in and chokes the life out of it all over again, until the blue turns to grey. It feels a little bit like a palate cleanser, a little morsel of whirling synths to clear out your tastebuds for the next psychedelic main dish. “Technopolis” is just that, its tumbling piano keys hoisted aloft on a pulsing techno beat and misty-eyed chords. He even finds time to set bass notes off like depth charges, overbalancing the track and scattering silvered notes onto the breeze. It wafts along like a classic techno track, gentle drums and glossy synths, as gentle strings pluck a nearly inaudible melody deep beneath the surface, in the sewers and slums of the technopolis, the unheard masses keeping the tune afloat. It’s an evocative track, dipping its toes into the past but never falling deep into the whirlpool of nostalgia, and even if it did, the indefatigable energy of “Titan” would pull it out right away, like a crazed dog on a leash.