little revolution now and then is necessary for the sanity and progression of any movement. Yet the path to being a savior is rarely forced or deliberate. We can look back on the history of what became known as IDM in the 90’s and see things develop from the early experiments with Skam, Ninja Tune, and The Orb(ital,) to the rise of Warp records and Autechre’s digital & dispirited funk-crunch, to the late 90’s followers who aimed to surf the pastoral Boards of Canada or take abstraction and theory to greater levels. While most followers would agree that these progressions seemed natural and for the most part enjoyable, it all happened so quickly that by the turn of the century the genre was already splintering and forcing itself into new areas just for the sake of progression. Today, a lot of IDM records include a heavy helping of either pop or extremism into the mix, and there are a slew of records retreading 90’s IDM developments, which could best be defined as comfort food for a generation that is still rather young.
I’m not going to make any outlandish claims that Wearemonster, the first record by Isoleé (aka Rajko Mueller) in over five years, is going to save IDM, but it does offer a new direction for the genre to go that is neither inaccessible nor completely compromised. House, be it micro, macro, or electro, has been resurgent this decade, and I surmise one of the main reasons for its crossover through the electronic underground has to do with its clearly stated sense of rhythm. No matter what bizarre tangent a track takes, there is almost always a kick drum in the background to act as your point of reference. One could also say that this benchmark puts the actual melodic/textural content of a track right out in the open for you to judge, as opposed to a seven minute track of arrhythmic freestyling, where the overall quality is more likely to be moot even after a number of listens. The genius of Wearemonster is that Mueller takes the clarity and mobility of house and synergizes it with the overabundance of melodies, textures, theories, and arrangement schemes found in IDM.
Despite his allegiances to Playhouse and the German techno community, Wearemonster has such a glut of musical ideas, tricky and elaborate structures, and grand scale gestures that it could not be described as a simple minimal/micro house record. Each track is like watching a mutation in process, where motifs are often born and then die on the spot, never to be returned to again. It kind of makes me wonder if Mueller was writing a new potential melody for this record every other day for years.
While there are many transitions and sections in each song, this record is so fluid and slippery smooth it often recalls a state of lucid dreaming. I imagine each track being played out to perfection in Mueller’s head, and then after waking up he went and recorded what he remembered. Is it too far-fetched to say “Pictureloved” and “Mädchen Mit Hase” are two versions of the same lucid dream? They both open with the same keyboard motif, but then they end up following very different paths: the former is the type of tough, rigid desolation Lawrence should be doing right now, while the latter tries to resist bursting at the seams with some incredible sounding 303. Throughout the album, you can just hear Mueller having fun playing mix and match while dreaming up each song, saying to himself “What would stuttering schaffel sound like during the Chicago House era?” (“Enrico”), “How about some hard and clangy acid mixed with deep-space Italo?” (“Do Re Mi”), “Deep Funk and Microhouse? Why not!” (“Pillowtalk”), and then waking up to push record.
Perhaps the subtle surprise of the record is Mueller integration of the guitar into the basic Isoleé sound; you wouldn’t notice it off the bat, but the majority of the tracks use guitars as if they were just another instrument, one with no association to any other genre. Two tracks do bring the instrument to the forefront however, “Today,” a grainy and swaying ballad, and the amazing “Schrapnell,” which combines reverb-heavy surf guitar a la Lee Hazlewood over a cruising and spacious piano groove you’d find on Neu ’75.
There are no vocal cuts, and no obvious singles, but track-for-track, Wearemonster has an amazing complexity and consistency that pushes it ahead of most similar sounding house records. Although the year is only half-over, it’s already hard to imagine many electronic albums that will be being able to surpass the webs of beauty and intensity drawn out here. Whether it will make any waves in revitalizing the IDM community is still up in the air, but put it this way: as dense as it was, I knew Wearemonster was an excellent record from the first time I heard it; after listening to the last few Autechre records dozens of times, I still can’t determine if they are filled with genius or crap. Spend your time wisely.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM’S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: JUNE 6 – JUNE 12, 2005