After ten steady years of classy techno releases, the Zenker brothers’ Ilian Tape imprint has finally taken off. Staying true to their vision of atmospheric machine music, the past couple of years IT have raised the bar with releases from Andrea, Skee Mask and the Zenkers themselves. The pair released a great debut album in 2015 and now Ilian Tape has its second LP with with Skee Mask’s ‘Shred’.
Techno albums are so often a tricky proposition, either coming across a disassociated collection of club tracks or ambient also-rans, and many great producers have struggled with how to make techno a satisfying solo listening experience. Skee Mask nimbly avoids the issue by focusing Shred around a central contrast – the tidal push-and-pull between glacial synthscapes and frenetic rhythms.
There is a strong narrative drive to the LP, its key ingredients introduced over a patient series of opening tracks. There’s the glistening ambience of Everest, a filtered rhythm tunnelling beneath the track’s surface, then the skittering space-station atmospherics of HAL Conv. When the first kick bursts free, on the tribal stomp of Autotuned, the energy is still not pushed to the max. Instead Skee Mask prefers a restrained tension, with the threat of explosion never quite brought to the boil.
As the LP continues a clear arc forms, with Melczop 2 the one concession to unbridled energy. Its raucous breakbeats are only part of the stunning drum programming, while blissful synthwork comes centrestage when the drums suddenly part like clouds. The descent is more colourful and emotive, sketching synthetic waterfalls on Zenker Haze Trak and a melody of profound longing over Panorama’s insectoid twitches that begs for a beatless edit.
Every sound in Shred is expertly manicured, from the subtlest percussive accents to the elegant ambience lacquered onto the surface of each track. This makes deep listening a real pleasure, to eke out the way Shred 08’s breakbeat sometimes skids eerily out of place, or how the filtered arpeggios continue to whisper through Japan Air’s oneiric breakdown.
Shred is an album that manages to have it all – superlative sound design and brute force, moments of dreamy elation next to stark rhythmic explorations. And yet despite the contrasts it contains, like Ilian Tape overall, the album always sounds the work of one mind, of one vision.