It’s not hard to imagine how an album like On Acid would come out of something like Acid Test. The Absurd Recordings sub-label/side-project is almost cutely self-explanatory. Founder Oliver Bristow gathered a formidable stable of artists led by California-based producer Tin Man and then limited the imprint’s output to the use of the infamous, scene-consuming TB-303 bass synth. Acid Test has since become, in microcosm, to acid house a little like what Autonomic is to drum’n’bass; subverting old cliches by inverting emotional expectations and setting sights on more ambitious and experimental outcomes. After a neat string of releases from producers from all over the map including Tin Man and Donato Dozzy, On Acid is Acid Test’s most accomplished and notable outing, and it arrives at the unlikely hands of German deep house producer, Recondite.
Recondite appeared last year with a suite of singles on Plangent Records, pedaling a subconscious, melancholic Dial-esque brand of deep house. The German’s assured and patient hand is unmistakable on On Acid and with inclusion of the pervasive 303, there’s a gentle and welcome pallet swap, represented perfectly by the hazy, arid landscape depicted on the record’s cover. It’s impossible not to hear Chicago in the 303, and its a striking change from Recondite’s decidedly Germanic aesthetics, but the producer sidesteps the pitfalls and modern stigmas of acid’s defining squelch and manic psychedelia by letting the synth waver and loop in lush tendrils, bathing the album’s complacent, isolated 4/4 throb in a soothing trickle of crimson food coloring.
But as much as “acid” is apart of the package, it feels like a mistake to approach the album confined to that single perspective. Recondite treats On Acid like a fully-fledged debut, and it’s certainly worthy of the promise he’s shown up until now. The record is musical and complex and incredibly listenable. Its pace is leisurely yet sprawling like a primitive dream, servicing the baser, more simplistic parts of the imagination. Recondite lets the forlorn and layered 303 melodies sit low and buttered in the mix, forcing the prickly drum textures to stick out. On opener, “Petrichor”, the bass settles into a thoughtful baritone groove around the unconscious kick before the woody snare pokes up through middle, bringing the whole thing to life. Enough negative space breathes through each track on the record to give minute, insignificant details like a reverberating hi-hat or sighing kick full attention as the 303s steadily mutate.
Recondite’s song structures are remarkable as well. On standout,”Felicity”, after the lazy 100 BPM waltz of the first two tracks, Recondite kicks things up to the 120 mark, but the song remains subdued and elusive. The overlapping layers of synth and a beautiful four-chord melody climb with an implicit, driving purpose that ascends to a syncopated, heavy-shouldered zenith before the marble-walled arpeggios overtake the track. “Harbinger” marches out into dub territory, delicious little hotplate staccatos punching through the stereo field. And “Jaded” is a gentle paranoid fugue, changing direction a couple times over the course of the track, alternating between rhythmic punch and unconfined, nebulous landscaping.
On Acid also comes with a remix of “Petrichor” and “Jaded” by Tin Man and (of all people) Scuba respectively. Tin Man, for his part, turns the opener into a romantic, dubby collage, the energy level climbing up a couple rungs. Scuba, on the other hand, transforms “Jaded” into a meaty, motorik honest-to-god acid house workout. Both enforce their own personal outlooks onto the tracks, but the constant bubbling of the 303 keep things from diverging too drastically from Recondite’s re-appropriated acid foundations. Most of the record sounds less like Recondite trying to make an acid house record, or trying to compromise his own instincts with acid tendencies, and more like he’s gracefully incorporating 303 into his own sensibilities. He lets the instrument operate at a slow simmer, letting it out the back door to wonder and explore instead of forecefully pushing it anywhere. It’s an “experiment” that pays off handsomely.