The clear link between early electronic, post-punk, noise and the modern brand of industrial-strength techno has become clearer and clearer over the past few years, thanks in no small part to entities like Sandwell District. That collective features LA's Juan Mendez, a vocal post-punk fan (and Tropic of Cancer founding member) whose previous work as Silent Servant has plunged surging Germanic techno into the sludgy atmospherics and gothic timbres of the most obscure post-punk seven-inches. Though a large quantity of his recent work has been disseminated through Sandwell District, his debut album comes from an unlikely place: noise artist Prurient's Hospital Productions, a label known more for its explorations of ear-piercing frequencies and serrated blankets of distortion than techno.
Negative Fascination doesn't break the mould exactly. But there's a distinct mark of confidence, from the breathtaking soundscape of beatless opener "Process (Introduction)"—revelling in the occult sound experiments of associates Raime—to the way a twisted metal arpeggio surfaces in "Invocation of Lust." (Mendez (and Sandwell) has always had a melodic streak, yet you'll find little in his catalogue more overt than the stirring strings in the latter track.)
As melodic and memorable as these tracks are, they're also some of Mendez' least forgiving. "The Strange Attractor" is a brutal workout with eardrum-scraping chords that relentlessly pan the spectrum as if trying to disorient the listener, and "Temptation & Desire" ups the ante by coating the kicks in rust and dropping them in an acid bath of shrieking frequencies. Meanwhile, "Moral Divide (Endless)" prefers motorik á la the stiff metronome of Tropic of Cancer, before everything wraps up with "Utopian Disaster (End)," a comparably lengthy track which sounds like Sandwell distilled: sonorous sustain chords punctured by a perpetually flowing arpeggio and atmospherics so cavernous you'll want to bring a headlamp.
What's most impressive about Negative Fascination is how Mendez manages to cover so much ground both so cohesively and in such a relatively short period of time, the rare techno album that finishes up under 40 minutes. It feels like a miniaturized epic, and it sees Mendez touch on all the established hallmarks of his already renowned sound, embellishing it here and there with grandiose flourishes.