ave you ever been to one of those luxurious IMAX theaters? These are places that boast gargantuan size screens, forty speaker strong surround sound, and state-of-the-art cameras and projectors. It can be quite an immersive experience, especially when you’re watching the nautical documentaries that these theaters always seem to be showing. In my own experience, I always found it striking that behind these enormous and exquisite portraits, which brought us to the most remote and tranquil parts of the ocean, were a countless number of machines and electrical devices.
I mention all of this because while I am listening to Mikkel Metal’s Close Selections, it reminds me of one of those maritime movies I used to see at these theaters. Not that Close Selections is a huge sounding or melodramatic record, it is more that the aquatic images Mikkel Meldgaard (aka Mikkel Metal) creates from his machines are rendered with such clarity and precision that it stirs up the IMAX memories for me.
Besides a couple of new productions that act merely as transitions, Close Selections is made up of vinyl-only material Mikkel has released in the past few years on the Echocord label. Despite the large time gap between some of these tracks, Meldgaard’s sound is so distilled that nothing sounds out of place. There is no getting around the fact that his work on Echocord isn’t particularly innovative, as it betrays a great debt to the grainy lo-fi dub of the Basic Channel/Chain Reaction/~Scape family, but that’s not to say he hasn’t a developed an identity of his own.
Where Basic Channel have always had a magnetic hypnotism about them, Meldgaard goes one step further by offering more concrete images in his work. Close Selections plays out like someone is narrating a series of events and scenes in a naval environment. The chord stabs of “Rollin” begins the album with our protagonist diving into the sea and letting himself sink. The swirling synths on the next track “Rodd” slip in to show the depth of the sea as we slowly approach the ocean floor. And then we are there. “Eight” marks this arrival as a much more desolate and sparse location, as we have stopped sinking and are free to stand still for awhile.
The imaginary story continues throughout the album as each track seems to highlight a certain event or emotion, such as swimming (“Larkin,”) floating (“Onet,”) or one of the many tracks where the palatable tension has you looking over your shoulder. This feeling of abandonment at the bottom of the sea briefly shows a sense of awe and empowerment during the middle of the album: “Noff” rotates through its two-chord loop with a determined restlessness, while “Sprang,” a breezy vocoder number that doubles as the most accessible track here, shows a playful sense of wonder.
However, the conclusion Meldgaard seems to offer is one that brings back the disunited notions of the sea and technology. It makes sense that “Clora,” the final track and possibly the best one, combines the machine-soul of Detroit techno with a face-down aquatic dirge. As it lurches forward on its stiff mechanical beat and synthetic atmosphere, it clearly reveals its digital origins. I’d hate to make an allusion to a film as ubiquitous as The Matrix, but “Clora” sort of lets you in on the secret that these beautiful underwater images are really just a product of a group of machines.
Close Selections is not a record that will jump out and excite you; it might even seem a bit too analytical at times. Yet despite this, as well as Meldgaard’s adherence to his dub influences, he shows himself to be very good at what he does. At the very least, a person with such a facility to carve distinct images through the muted color spectrum of dub/glitch/techno should be heralded.