Whether you rated it or not, James Blake's debut album sold over 60,000 copies in the UK alone last year, which certainly gave the bigger underground labels food for thought. Sure, creative integrity and artistic progression still rule over financial return for imprints worth their salt, but the pursuit of a lucrative yet credible middle ground is evidently on the rise. Over the past three years, Modeselektor's two prolific release channels—Monkeytown and 50 Weapons—have steadily amassed a comprehensive roster of in-vogue producers. Now, marking this mini-empire's most commercially viable release to date, the Berlin-based veteran Carsten Aermes delivers his third album as Phon.o.
Having explored a variety of techno affiliated sub-genres in the past, Aermes' well-received singles via 50 Weapons last year marked a change of direction towards a deeper, more step-orientated sound. With comparisons drawn to Burial's ethereal strain of ambient garage, anticipation has been high for Black Boulder. "Nightshifts" opens the album in a roll of plaintive xylophone tones over 2-step buoyancy, with the immediate comparison actually being SBTRKT's brand of denim pop rather than anything by Hyperdub's elusive specter.
Holding pattern, this somewhat obvious likeness is especially hard to sideline during the following vocal number "Twilight" and the unifying swagger of "Die Maschinistin." Both blurred in a wash of whirling melancholia and shuffling woodblock percussion, the title track and 'Mosquitoes' justify the "post-Burial" references, shortly before the arrival of the uncannily Zomby-esque "Hope Light." An album version of the preceding single "Slave Mode" is clearly of note, while the doe-eyed trance of the closer "12th" marks not only another late highpoint, but also the only real standout moment of individualism.
Make no mistake, there isn't a bad track on Black Boulder and it is certainly an accessible crossover release that's suited to the long-player format. But it's not very original either. As such, your mileage may vary.
Buy Phon.o - Black Boulder at
Tracklist: Phon.o - Black Boulder 01. Nightshifts
02. Twilight feat. Pantasz
04. Die Maschinistin
05. Black Boulder
08. Leave a light on feat. Tunde Olaniran
09. Slavemode (Album Version)
10. Hope Light