Let’s be clear: listening to Translate will bring great reward but also a huge sense of annoyance. The positives come from the music and the wonderful cosmic journey that Luke Abbott takes you on, while the frustration comes from knowing that you simply don’t possess a sound system that can really do justice to this album. Abbott has stated that he aims to tour Translate with quadrophonic sound once things go back to how they were in The Before Times, so see you there for that.
Abbott’s 2014 album Wysing Forest was a weird, delightfully confrontational album of psychotropic soundscapes for the discerning listener, and felt like a rebuke to the acclaim gained from Holkham Drones, his debut album of 2010. Translate leans on a lot of the soundtrack work that Abbott has undertaken since those first two records, whilst also paying homage to acts including Death in Vegas, Boards of Canada and Harmonia. As a whole, the record is more positive in mood and tone than anything Abbott has released so far; it’s also easily his best work to date.
Both “Our Scene” and “Flux” wouldn’t sound out of place on Kraftwerk’s Radio-Activity, and there can be few higher compliments than that. Both are propulsive beasts with an emphasis on forward trajectory, whilst they are also playful in their use of space and aural textures. It’s in the less serious tone of the album that Abbott has succeeded – this isn’t chin stroking electronica for the flaccid intelligentsia, nor is it unremitting hedonism made exclusively with the dance floor in mind. Translate is something altogether rare, an album which evokes its predecessors whilst feeling like none of them.
“Ames Window” also highlights this sense of vibrant positivity, but does so with a sly, mischievous smile. The track plays with pitch and tempo, coming off around 30bpm faster than it sounds like it was recorded at, and it has a childlike quality to its constantly repeating refrains, which are both infectious and unerring. It’s a glitch-acid track, whatever that may mean, and sounds not entirely unlike something from Polygon Window’s Surfing On Sine Waves from 1993.
“Earthship” is ponderously moody, a spooky invocation of the emotional depth that can be conjured from machines. The synth lines are interspersed with found sounds that swoop out of focus as quickly as they came in, penetrating the pensive mood with their sharp presence. Twanging guitars enter the fray and they invoke the notion of how Blade Runner could have been different, had Ridley Scott used more visual tropes from the Western genre rather than film noir influences in his cinematic masterpiece.
There is a sense of brooding disquiet on “River Flow” which replaces the usual synth and beats formula with elongated strings that stretch and overlap to create an unsettling tranquillity. It’s has a mournful sense of inquisitiveness about it. Its wandering focus doesn’t quite resolve itself as it shies away from a cyclical feel to a more linear one. The track bleeds into “Feed Me Shapes”, which also has a linear approach to its structure, along with a retro-futurist feel, combining chiming guitars that feel knowingly morphed from Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs” with a stoic machine heartbeat drum sound underpinning everything. These are alluring tracks, and feel like nothing Abbott has put together before. They are sumptuous in their texture, rich in depth and aura; simply magical.
“Living Dust” is a contorting beast of a track that twists around itself, adding new textures from time to time, skewing the focus a little. Before too long, the minor cyclical additions transmute the track into something else entirely, locking it in a glacial rotation of wonderment and subdued glory. Abbott combines precise arpeggios with a rattlesnake beat (you’ll know what that is when you hear it) and cascading and sweeping synth lines, which elevate the track to a space of awed wonderment.
Translate is a wonderful album from a special artist. Evocative, cinematic and visceral, the body of work is testament to the evolution of Luke Abbott and his desire to challenge himself with each new release. Just don’t be too harsh on your speakers for inevitably letting you down.