Dub techno is the whipping boy genre of electronic music critics. It's not hard to hear why: So many of the genre's practitioners can't seem to get past their love affair with delay and reverb, privileging process over result. Not so Luke Hess, who has made his name on taking elements of dub techno and rehanging them in more compelling frames. Hess' debut album, Light in the Dark, showcased a mastery of the form, and his latest, Keep On, is a further honing of his style.
Keep On isn't flashy. In fact, it's downright unassuming. You've likely heard what "Awareness - Reflections" has to offer before. Its heavy bottom-end plugs along, similar to the smooth, linear bump of a Conforce or Fred P track. It's simply extremely well-executed stuff. Right when you're ready for a ticking snare, it appears. The tidy breakdown that doesn't let the foot off the pedal too much? Yes, of course. And the second melody that interlocks gracefully with the percolating synth? Do you even need to ask? Hess' arrangements on Keep On are the secret to its success. As Thom Yorke might say, everything is in its right place.
What sets Keep On apart from its peers is its driving sense of momentum. Hess rarely lets a track go by without plugging stuttering hi-hats or snares in between the kick drum. It's a simple trick, but the results are hugely effective. Even when nothing is "happening," things seem to be moving along. You can hear this deployed in both "Restored" and "Deep to Deep." The former, a contender for moodiest dub techno record of the year, would be weighed down without the constant chittering. "Deep to Deep," meanwhile, gets elevated from nice-enough tech-house-with-a-dollop-of-dub-on-top to straight-up-banger as a result.
Also of note is "Direction," whose frenetic acid line recalls the same sort of magic conjured up by Delta Funktionen earlier this year on "Redemption." Oddly enough, Hess also titles a track "Redemption" here, but it's instead a stately, patient number that never bubbles completely over. It'd be a perfect final comedown if it weren't for "Inheritance" closing things out. But the track, while a curious album closer, actually goes some way towards reaffirming what the rest of Keep On is about: Expertly arranged techno with dub touches that complement—and don't over-egg—the pudding. Hess keeps it simple on Keep On, and it has resulted in one of the most enjoyable full-lengths of the year.
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Tracklist: Luke Hess - Keep On01. Awareness (Reflections Revisited)
02. Briefing the Defenders
03. Humility (Renew Your Mind) feat. Papa Smurf
05. Deep to Deep
06. Small Electronic Break
08. Overcome feat. Jeff Hess (mixed by Omar S)
10. Break Through
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