Part of what made Drawn & Quartered on Deadbeat's new label BLKRTZ last year so exciting was its radical reductionism—five lengthy slabs of pure digital dub, with no Echospace cliches to be seen. But how to follow such an act of reverent traditionalism? Following hot on the heels of the last one, Eight shows Berlin-based Scott Monteith heading back to his comfort zone with renewed spirit and vigour, dub-leaning techno armed with the truly epic spirit of his last venture.
Opener "Elephant in the Pool" sets the mood—it's a lopsided techno banger that skids across a heaving dub framework instead of fully inhabiting it like Drawn & Quartered. Heavily manipulated chords and hard-panned drums are catnip for the careful listener, adding spatial depth to barebones techno that establishes its heft through weight rather than size or torque. From there, Monteith jumps from idea to idea, like Roots & Wire with a simpler, more chiseled palette. The techno here is a meditative, considered kind, with tracks like "Alamut" and "Yard" trembling with exotic syncopation and trading in techno's honed thunk for tracks that sound like flames igniting in slow motion.
Also pulling Eight out of the heady solipsism of Drawn & Quartered is Monteith's collaborations with a cohort of close friends, who add necessary splashes of colour to what otherwise could have been fifty shades of gray. Cobblestone Jazz member Danuel Tate provides some of his group's distinctly flowing basslines to a new version of "Lazy Jane," splicing dub in half and butterflying it down into something that doesn't skank so much as chug. Meanwhile, Mathew Jonson lays down pirouetting arpeggios on centrepiece "Wolves and Angels," cutting the stark mood for the record's brief moment of sunlight, and closer "Horns of Jericho" with Dandy Jack is a churning turbine of harsh percussion. But the price for sticking his head out of the proverbial sand is that each track stands naked by itself, lacking the cohesive momentum that made Drawn & Quartered such a journey.
With arena-size atmospherics and every sound endowed with a fathoms-deep dub delirium, Eight is an album as focused on its meticulous sound design as it is on the musicality. With mastering by Pole and assistance from Monolake on "room design," one gets the feeling that Monteith is as concerned with the exact impact the drums make in a given space as the pattern they're banging out into. The result is an intensely detailed record that really forces you to hunt down those details—details that lie in the way sounds interact with each other, undergo subtle manipulation, and most importantly, how they interfere with the almost constant low-end agitation that blankets the album.