pparat is the pseudonym of Berlin-based producer and DJ Sascha Ring, co-founder of the Berlin techno label Shitkatapult with T. Raumschmiere. Being the head of an inertial force in Berlin’s electronic music scene would seem to place certain limitations on Ring, especially considering the boundaries of the local en vogue styles. But although he’s dabbled in the Berlin techno scene in the past, Ring is best at subverting genres rather than kowtowing to their formalistic wiles. He slaps together vague, dour electro and techno cuts that are often noisy and ill suited to the dance-floor, with soft beats hung up against gale-force glitches. His last collaboration with Ellen Allien, 2006’s Orchestra of Bubbles, delicately tempered the sleek BPitch Control production with Apparat’s messy candor, and became one of Stylus’s favorite electronic releases last year.
Apparat has learned some moderation since the ham-fisted glitchiness of 2003’s Duplex, his last full-length. Following the 2005 double EP Sizilium and Orchestra of Bubbles, Walls seems to come from an even more contemplative place. Ring’s beats fall back into the mix, like he hit the “broom drumsticks” option on his drum machines; the techno pulse of Orchestra of Bubbles is reduced to a shuffle of 2-step, electro, and rock beats. Witness the maudlin string section laid down in opener “Not a Number” and slashing through about half the album. Though he was a crucial element on Orchestra of Bubbles and Allien’s Berlinette before it, Ring obviously doesn’t have the same interest as Allien in getting people to shake tail.
That’s not to say he couldn’t play to a crowd. Despite the continued presence of Apparat’s obtuse fuzz, Walls doesn’t exactly fit with his more introverted previous work. Fans of Sizilium will find some similarity to the rock-styled beatiness and seething feedback loops of “Komponent” and “Not a Good Place,” which featured Raz Ohara’s reedy, multi-tracked vocals narrating an otherworldly soundscape. Ohara returns to sing on a few tracks here, and his contributions seem to signal the most accessible material on the album—his trade-offs with Ring are like pistols at dawn. Raz attacks with Prince-ly R&B inflections on “Hailin’ from the Edge” and “Holdon,” Apparat parries with a Thom Yorke falsetto and 32nd beat drum loops on “Birds,” and so on.
As can be expected for a guy who runs a label, Apparat’s work is always especially contemporaneous, but never to the point where he’s wearing someone else’s sound. Orchestra of Bubbles gently expounds on both minimal techno and progressive trance with a smooth and lyrical grace, while Sizilium and Duplex place glitch electronica in the early-noughties context of chaotic melodicism. With Walls, it seems as if Apparat is aspiring to inflect some of the same cross-functional, DIY Wall-of-Sound that Jimmy Tamborello and M83 parlayed into crossover success. The impressive thing about Walls is that while it doesn’t always reach for the great melodic heights of those guys or of Orchestra of Bubbles, it finds the same gallantry in the low places of fuzzy oblivion Apparat previously hid behind. Not to mention it’s his best record yet.