Anyone releasing his first solo album nearly two decades into his career is going to feel a certain burden of expectation. Even more so if—as is the case with New York-born, Berlin-based artist Dave Sumner, AKA Function—you're arguably renowned less as a solo producer than as a member of Sandwell District, and thus had a hand in the enigmatic collective's 2011 album Feed-Forward, one of the best techno LPs of recent years. Sandwell District's iconic stature has only grown since they put their label on indefinite hiatus with an oblique communique at the end of 2011 which, with its talk of "experiments" and "vinyl artifacts," could have been penned by Jeff Mills himself, whom Sumner credits as a major influence after seeing him DJ at Limelight in New York back in the early '90s.
Sumner has mainly produced singles until now, but Incubation flows nicely as an album. Though it isn't explicitly styled as a soundtrack, it does have a futurist and foreboding sci-fi feeling throughout. "Against The Wall" feels like something nasty scraping at a bulkhead, while the ambient "Counterpoint" creates the sense of being sucked out of an airlock. Probably the clearest echo of Mills is in the album's minutely-detailed beats and unsettling tones, which also form a clear continuum from Feed-Forward.
Incubation feels full of space both texturally and technically, due in no small part to the fact Sumner entrusted the mixdown to veteran engineer Tobias Freund. The void that seems to open up beneath you on "Voiceprint" gives the album a vertiginous sense of scale right from the start. Even the pounding beat of "Voiceprint (Reprise)" begins to feel weightless towards the end as it fades beneath the vaporous melodies that slowly creep over it. A new version of the previously released "Inter" sounds even more expansive than the original, like something from one of Warp's old Artificial Intelligence compilations. Yet it's the rhythms rather than the bleak sonics that give this album its feeling of suspended animation. Instead of driving forward on tracks like "Gradient I," they circle in hypnotic loops. Taken as a whole, Incubation is an album that lures you into dark places in your brain rather than moving your body on the dance floor.
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Tracklist: Function - Incubation 01. Voiceprint
02. Against the Wall
05. Incubation (Ritual)
06. Inter (Album Version)
07. Voiceprint (Reprise)
08. Psychic Warfare
09. Gradient I