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CD Feature/ Byetone: "Death of a Typographer"

img  Tobias
Olaf Bender’s biography makes a lengthy point of how difficult it is to present electronic music live and how he mastered this challenge by connecting his performances to a light show, synchronising the rhythm of the music with the pulse of the beams and forming a new unified entity. What the text omits, though, is that groove-driven electronic music remains a hard nut to crack in the studio as well. Especially with regards to the quintessential album format the genre appears to be marking time, which is why the scene, almost twenty years after its commercial breakthrough, is still dominated by loose tracks, singles and EPs.

Bender is no stranger to this topic. In fact, as a founding member of the Raster Noton label, he has actively pushed for musical emancipation, sculpting both new aural forms and inspiring idiosyncratic contexts for them to develop in. Amazingly, despite his dauntless musical approach, which always seems slightly more emotionally inclined and adventurous than those of some of his label colleagues, “Death of a Typographer” is only his second solo full-length. While the immediacy and pushy nature of these tracks defy notions of an overly intellectual compositional process, their associative power hint at the desire for a definitive statement.

To put it blandly: Bender has not gone through the trouble of meticulously arranging and fine-tweaking a 50-minute record for no reason, but because he genuinely felt he had something to say. What could it be? You leave the album spinning in the background once or twice while finishing up some assignments or while churning out a couple of emails and wonder. Mastered by Bo Kondren in Berlin, “Death of a Typographer” shines like an alien amethyst, basses rotundly bulging out in all points of the compass, kickdrums bouncing insistently, hihats snapping like freshly unpacked Gilette razors or an orchestra of spoons after a cleanup at the dishwasher’s. But it fails to leave a lasting impression.

The reason for this initial indifference is the album’s insistence on a shining surface on the one hand – and its solemn refusal to add sweetly scented chord progressions and accessible melodies on the other to top things off. Meanwhile, discongruent noises as a means of contrast are also lacking completely. As a result, Byetone presents us with the dichotomy between density and depth: While the throbbing heartbeat pulses, adrenalin-pumping distortion and armourplated percussion of opener and first single “Plastic Star” fills the entire spectrum with glistening laserspecks, there are no hidden layers and second meanings underneath its garish demonstration. Beyond the beat and the bass, there is only a void , waiting to be filled by the stomping feet and clapping hands of myriads of dancers at a club.

Allured by the incredible resonance of the album, however, you decide to give it one last attentive listen without the quotidian distractions of previous sessions. And then something happens. After the Techno-Electro of “Straight”, “Rocky” develops a mysterious charm and intruigingly wanders through a permutating polylogue between sheets of crackle, a bonedry bass drum, synth stabs, an ardent analogue pad and various other elements in constant flux. “Black is Black” begins like a crowbar version of Kraftwerk until a glassy drone sneaks in from the depth, like a fenlight over a moonlit moore. Before the piece has fully grown, Bender seamlessly cuts off the rhythm and leads the music into a static field, floating weightlessly above the ground.

You should expect this artistic emergency-break to halt the momentum of the record, but astoundingly it does the exact opposite: Suddenly, the listener finds himself in a colourful cornucopia of possibilities and sounds. As if the slate were wiped clean again, “Death of a Typographer” reemerges from silence, more slowly and carefully this time, sucking its audience through ambient grooves, ominous swells and twinkling harmonics. The stripped down shuffle of “Grand Style” suddenly seems to be slipping you some sort of secret message and the minimal configuration of “Heart”, comprising of nothing but a slowed-down fever pulse, a sustained tone and an intermittent bass shudder, turns into a regal finale.

It is in that very moment that you realise what this album has what others sadly lack: Drama. Byetone guids listeners through a chain of wormholes, all leading from one halucinating galaxy to the next and even though transitions are sometimes abrupt, there is a sense of urgency, necessity and inevitability to his plan.

This, then, is what Bender has discovered and consequently realised: There’s no movie without a script and no record without a narrative. If Bender can pull off the stunt in a live situation, the malaise of groove-driven electronic may be over for good.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Byetone
Homepage: Raster Noton Records

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