How far off of the grid can you stretch techno and still call it techno? That's the question Bristolian producer Vessel has been gradually working towards since he emerged last year. Seb Gainsborough's productions—haunted and permanently skewed—have descended into an abyss consumed by post-punk and noise flourishes. On his debut album Order of Noise, Gainsborough presents an entire world rendered in black and dull chrome.
Much like Actress' R.I.P., on first impression Order of Noise is an intermittently dazzling array of fragments that don't quite piece together. But also like R.I.P., when you listen carefully, the album's faint and barely-there heartbeat begins to emerge. Order of Noise is a sewer trawl through the repressed neuroses of techno, what's left after the drug-fueled vestiges of "the party" have left—an exploration of the sinister undertones of collectives like Sandwell District, unleashed and unfettered. Order of Noise also illuminates an unsurprising preoccupation with dub music, a twisted-metal take on the genre that brings to mind modern primitivists like Ekoplekz. We get harsh meditations like "Stillborn Dub," underpinned by wheezing machines, or the fascinating "2 Moon Dub," which detonates an Augustus Pablo-calibre bassline into digital detritus.
Another logical allegiance of Gainsborough's is the kind of dark ambient and modern classical he showcased on his RA podcast, manifesting here in a sensibility where noise meets sweetly wafting melodies. Harsher moments like the screechy "Scarletta" are buoyed by soaring motifs: imagine a scuffed-up Alva Noto out for blood. The result is music that unsettles and unnerves. "Silten," starts out with a ghostly whomp but is soon swallowed by a beautiful string section. It always feels like there's two or three things going on at once, with melody lines whizzing by in a blur. That's part of what makes Order of Noise so simultaneously confusing and exhilarating: at first, the seemingly clumsy craftsmanship can seem sloppy, but it's a mark of labour rather than laziness. It's a bustling record that always holds new moments to reveal.
For all the talk of how difficult it is, Order of Noise's two highlights are its most straightforward. They're made all the more powerful for their relative positions as pillars of solidity in an album that wallows in its own dissolution. Building a delirious amble element by element, "Lache" becomes a veritable orchestra of found sound and grizzled synth that erupts into a fantastic symphony of chewed up sound by its final two minutes. Doing it one better, "Court of Lions" constructs an industrial-lite doorcrasher that dissolves into a sepulchral rapture. Both of these tracks aren't really techno per se, and neither is the rest of the album. Yet it's one of the most engaging and gripping techno albums of the year anyway.
Tracklist: Vessel - Order of Noise01. Vizar
02. Stillborn Dub
03. Images of Bodies
07. 2 Moon Dub
09. Plane Curves
11. Court of Lions