Review Summary: How I hate those dirty little flies, impossible to sleep, it is too hot, no wind... and the gods are laughing at us
Fifteen years into a career and eight albums to show for it seems, on its own, a rather admirable feat, but there’s always been a rather nagging feeling that Robert Henke and the various affiliates he’s aligned himself with have never really been given their proper due. Outside of revolutionizing electronic music with his work on production and performance software, Ableton Live, Monolake’s music has never been a thing to easily grasp, let alone scale. Bordering on obsessive levels of refinement, Henke’s technical acumen hasn’t allowed for pleasant listening at the best of times, his music devoid of in-roads or back alleys with which to navigate. He produces a very precise type of music, painstakingly mechanical and meticulously on-point. Monolake, even at its most lush and delicate, is an apparatus built under a concept of mechanical frigidity; when blunt-nosed, creaking techno is replaced with more fragile and opulent environs do the levels of communication begin to resemble something more personable, but it’s still a daunting and completely exhausting exchange, a communication and dialect that takes place completely on the artist’s terms. Ghosts
, at surface level, appears to be cut from the same futuristic mold with its uninviting and foreboding artwork and premise, but closer inspection finds album no. 8 to be the artist’s most approachable album to date.
On Monolake’s last outing, 2009’s Silence
, Henke had begun an almost casual reassessment of his musical profile, evolving beyond his shuttering and twisted bass-drenched techno machinations. A subtle evolution was revealed, as that album slowly begun swinging its pendulum arc towards the omniscient world of the UK bass scene. As the next logical step, and as the definitive sequel to Silence
(the project recently revealed as a trilogy, with a third album, Escape
to be released at some point), Ghosts
continues the affair by painting even broader strokes with this once foreign idea. The precision-like atmosphere of his deliberate craftsmanship still revolves around the gloom of the minuscule, the infinitesimal minutiae, but now there’s a groove, a subtle drive to gently reign in the ambience and provide a much welcomed focus. BPM’s have been noticeably ramped up too, now falling exceedingly closer to the dancefloor accepted 140 mark. The intervening time between records has seen Henke develop an affinity, and knack for, rhythm and structure; here that idea is spread around liberally, squeezing its way into the minimal architecture. There’s also very much a recurring notion of man versus machine, process against produce; field recordings play a notable, and frankly, crucial role in shaping the identity of this album, turning the truly alien into something more fully realized, more human.
is still nevertheless a demanding journey, one that begins immediately with the muscular title track, a flexing piece of mechanical fury that surges along under a thin veneer of murky quasi-industrial drum & bass. ‘Taku’ is equally dense and mercurial but for vastly different reasons; galloping intensity is dropped in favor of more odious maladies, as the sounds of creaking doors, pins dropping and rolling across glass and the very human-like sound of a beat being tapped out in some distant crawlspace take centre stage. Every thing about this track is based on the idea of reaction, like the shockwaves that a cast stone will do to still waters, or the quickening of a heartbeat at the sound of something that shouldn’t be there. Again, it’s that constant argument of nature against machine, but here it’s difficult to ascertain just how one-sided that conversation truly is. ‘Phenomenon’ continues that sense of “banging in the basement”, that sound of a thousand tiny creatures industriously applying themselves to whatever task the imagination is able to conjure up.
While the album is at its most haunted when it strips away the percussion, Ghosts
is by no means any less claustrophobic when it comes out with all guns blazing. Despite its name, ‘Afterglow’ is shot in stark grayscale, stripped of all identity and rendered in full monochromatic crispness, and ‘The Existence Of Time’ takes that idea even further, turning its toolbox drum & bass beat into metal on metal, like the sounds of butcher’s knives being sharpened, while that unstable sub-bass continuously grinds away underneath like road works. And while ‘Aligning The Daemon’ might be the album’s closest attempt at appearing personable (even with its ghoulish church organs), it’s preceded by ‘Lilith’, a track built on echo and reverb, like sonic warfare conducted inside a vacuum. And despite reportedly having been created scant hours before the album was to be mastered, ‘Foreign Object’ is perhaps Henke’s most fully-realized attempt at approaching his craft from the more rhythmic side of the equation, even if it arrives at that point from a far more psychotic stance. It conjures up reference points as detailed as the entire autonomic speech of densely layered mangled drum & bass, liberally aping the suffocating clutches of a Consequence or ASC tune.
artwork paints a rather bleak image of a jungle wrapped up in the cocoon of dense mist thick enough to blot out the sun. The album, as an extension of that, is one built under a sense of motion, of searching, seeking, desperately hunting
for a way forward, a way out, a means of escape. And it’s in that all-encompassing fog that the lingering sounds that permeate this record seem to exist, echoing back as a sign of defiance against your intentions to deny their existence. Ghosts
is a scary f
uckin’ record, and deliberately so. And while we always fear what we don’t know or understand, we always find ourselves drawn to it, with an almost perverse kind of fervency; Henke knows