Much great art comes from conflict. Whether it be a corrosive relationship, sudden loss or psychological crisis, tough times push us to emotional extremes that seem to result in a striking artistic clarity and power. The driving force behind DJ Richard’s debut LP seems to be displacement, a move from the States to Berlin and the loss of a familiar natural landscape, as detailed in our recent interview.
Far from his native ocean, the White Material co-founder populates his album with titles evoking the rock formations, fauna and natural phenomena of his native Rhode Island, yet the dark industrial sonic traits of his new home in Berlin are never far from the listener’s ear. This contrast is the power of Grind, a collection of kinetic electronica on the border between house and techno, its moods and rhythms in constant flux, the product of a mind that churns like the sea.
The level of refinement and cohesion to these tracks is perhaps not a surprise given its context – this album has been made twice. A burglary cost Richard a laptop with a near-finished version of his debut LP, and so he was made to rebuild, using almost no samples in the process. This perhaps explains why Grind feels so full and engaging, each track a marvel of mood and detail.
The mood across the album is decidedly ominous and brooding, particularly on the heavy, contemplative ambient interludes No Balance and Ejected, yawning abysses poised to swallow the listener whole. Yet outside of this foundation many other emotions take hold. On Nighthawk a delicate two-note tweet may be subdued but still feels optimistic against a rhythm that sounds like the cracking of a great insect’s exoskeleton. Following is Waiting For The Green Flash, the first in a pair of references to rare optical phenomena, which glitters menacingly, its intentions shrouded in mist.
The album then enters a run of accomplished and otherworldly dance tracks, kicking off with the tumbling arpeggios of Savage Coast and the soaring harmonies of Screes Of Grey Craig. The brightness that lights the corners of these tracks comes to the fore on the surprising highlight Bane, where a burbling melody skids joyously over a splintered drum pattern, occasionally rising to the boil and cascading all around. The album’s deep centrepiece is I-Mir, as patient as Bane is effervescent, largely composed of a raw tunnelling bassline, a stammering kick and a swelling ambient wash like a ghostly choir roiled by the waves. Four minutes in enter a set of clattering metallic snares, marching forward with martial precision and threat.
While DJ Richard’s previous EPs showed music more sophisticated than typical club music, they were calibrated for dancing, and Grind is a departure from that. DJs will find some great club tracks if they choose to skim it for parts, but that would be to miss the holistic effect of the album. This is narrative techno, and in typical artistic form, the narrative of conflict draws us inexorably towards reconciliation. This is heard on Vampire Dub, a confection of twinkling synth work, gauzy keys that leave behind calming reverb trails, and bubbling mechanical accents. Here the feelings of displacement are left behind, resolution can be found in a composition which is nakedly beautiful. This is the deserved conclusion to a great artistic accomplishment; a dance album with no fat, no misfires, every tune essential, surprising and rewarding. We hear darkness and conflict resolved through artistic expression, and we find peace.