Super Space Model
atapunk is the name of Anthony Rother’s label and it’s hardly a coincidence. Much like William Gibson’s neuromantic visions, the music released on the imprint is caught creating life where there should be none, showing that there is reason to navigate the matrix after all. But whereas Gibson was busy shaking up a moribund science fiction game, Rother concerns himself breathing life back into electro.
But we should back up a moment. Datapunk is Tony mk. II. Before all that, Rother was making his name by creating some of that same electro he’s now busy tinkering with. Sex With the Machines and tracks like “Biomechanik” stand as testaments to what electro could’ve become in the late 1990’s—and what it rarely was: filthy, frightening, and compelling. And now? The same three adjectives could easily apply to Super Space Model, a further concretization of 2004’s weirdly powerful Popkiller and its breathless combination of electro and techno.
Before Popkiller was released, Rother was rightfully worried that fans wouldn’t get it, saying in one interview that he was “aware that [the album] requires a high degree of flexibility, and that is creating a certain tension.” Compared to the varied electro hum of albums like the aforementioned Sex With the Machines and Simulationszeitalter, flexibility on the listener’s part wasn’t the problem: it was his reliance on 4/4 techno.
But Rother’s keen pop sense has always seen him through, no matter what genre his compositions have fallen under. On Super Space Model, it’s no different. “Brainshaker” is an obvious single, if for the simple fact that it’s the only “song” under four minutes. Like most of Rother’s lyrical outings, there is dancing (moneymaker), love (heartbreaker), death (soultaker), and the unknown (brainshaker) to contend with. But while “Brainshaker” may be the most compact, it’s hardly the best that Rother has to offer. On Popkiller and here, his secret weapon is the building and release of tension. That’s why a little over four minutes into “Push to Talk”’s instrumental build you’ll find yourself punching the air and why “Space Rock”’s six plus minutes aren’t nearly enough.
Weak spots? Sure. Closer “Who Dies?” is kind of laughable, if the sentiment weren’t utterly serious (“Brothers and sisters / Can’t you see / The world is dying”). Its backing is to blame, leaving him out to lyrically dry in the most spacious of the album’s productions. But those moments are too often sandwiched between two or three tracks like “Youth,” which should make the electro-purists happy enough, riding along easily at over 130 BPM, with Rother playfully(?) adding a plural to the “We are the youth” refrain. Self-identification or mid-life crisis? The tension is the important part.