The Cloud Making Machine
F Communications / Mute
aurent Garnier, he of “Crispy Bacon,” “Acid Eiffel,” and “The Man With The Red Face,” one of the first to play American House records in Europe (at the Hacienda, no less), has nothing to prove. He still draws crowds when he DJs, still gets good critical notices, still gets referred to occasionally as “the best French DJ in the world,” and generally does well for himself.
And thank goodness for that, because the resulting freedom can be heard all over The Cloud Making Machine, Garnier’s first album since 2000’s darkly jazz-house opus Unreasonable Behaviour. It doesn’t always work, and the record has a scattered second half that undercuts the sonic unity of the first, but the best moments here are as starkly affecting as any of Garnier’s past work. Too many DJs put together albums that aim for both the club and the home and fall into the half-assed gap in between; Garnier has instead simply followed his muse and the result is infinitely preferable.
After the lengthy intro of the first part of the title track, the album launches into a string of shimmering downtempo house tracks with “9:01-9:06”—replete with pinpoint synthesizer over aquatically shuffling beats. The next three songs, although veering from the dead, late-night stomp of “Barbiturk Blues” to the Susumu Yokota-esque breath sounds on the fuzzy “Act 1 Minotaure Ex” (the closest Garnier comes to equaling “The Sound Of The Big Babou”’s near tactile sound), all clearly fit into the same mold. There’s a cinematic mournfulness to the sound here that in lesser hands would be overwrought, but even as “Huis Clos” (sounding like an even quieter “Subterraneans,” if Bowie had been of gypsy descent) weeps its way to a conclusion things still sound fresh.
It’s not that “First Reaction (V2),” which starts the second side, is worse than these earlier tracks, but as a vocalist rants about their reaction to some traumatic event (9/11? The US elections? The Ukrainian elections?) over crazed clarinet squeals and what sounds like a mangled clavinet, the beautifully managed tonality of the album goes out the window. “First Reaction (V2)” masterfully depicts confusion and a resolution to, as they say, not be fooled again and kicks far harder than anything else on the album to boot, but it feels out of place.
That it’s followed by what sounds like a joke dancefloor stomp (“Controlling The House Pt. 2”) before “(I Wanna Be) Waiting For My Plane” hijacks the sleigh bells from “I Wanna Be Your Dog” to even more deadening effect. It’s at this point that it’s clear we’re not getting the delicate plateaus and widescreen vistas of “9:01-9:06” or “Huis Clos” back. Even worse, Garnier ends the album with the kids-over-cut-rate-Aphex track “Jeux D’Enfants” and the anticlimactic conclusion to “The Cloud Making Machine.”
To be fair, the second half of the album is far from bad, and both “First Reaction (V2)” and “(I Wanna Be) Waiting For My Plane” are highlights. But they feel like highlights from a different album than “Act 1 Minotaure Ex.” It’s great that, once again, Garnier didn’t feel pressured to make anything other than a coherent album meant to be enjoyed on its own terms, but it’s frustrating that all that keeps that album from greatness is the painful divide between sides.