Three years ago, Terrence Fuller gave Marcel Dettmann's debut album a lukewarm review, saying it lacked the qualities that made other Ostgut Ton LPs—namely Shed's Shedding The Past and Ben Klock's One—so engrossing. It's not hard to see what he meant. Those albums were generous to the listener, rich with melody and emotion in a way most techno isn't. They passed the litmus test that, for better or worse, is applied to all electronic long-players: they were "albums" rather than collections of tracks, and well-suited to what's called "home listening." Dettmann didn't seem to give a shit about any of that. It was, to use a word often associated with the Berlin producer, uncompromising—as pure a manifestation of his sound as ever, despite whatever implied guidelines the album format may have.
This was perfectly in line with Dettmann's usual MO. Austerity is central to techno as an art form, and few artists embrace it as fully as he does. His style is minimalist in the truest sense: powerful largely because of how economical it is. This is true even beyond the actual music—think of how much mileage he gets out of his given name, which, in addition to being his only alias, is the title of his record label and his first album (little surprise that his new one is simply called II). Dettmann habitually ignores these opportunities for extra flair—every ounce of his creativity he pours into his music, and then into honing that music down to its raw essence.
This in mind, II is not exactly a surprising album. What we get are 12 carefully sculpted, ultra-pure visions of techno. Each is thoroughly uncluttered, and given just enough color to be compelling. Take "Throb." To the untrained ear (i.e. mine), this track seems to have at most four elements working in tandem: a simple kick drum, an undulating sound that provides something distantly related to melody, and a very subtle backdrop that pairs a soothing hiss and a quiet drone. Nothing is superfluous, everything is essential—one less piece and the track would feel incomplete.
What makes II a success is that, as spartan as they are, these productions don't feel like they're lacking anything. It's amazing how much personality Dettmann teases out of such simple arrangements—the odd, tip-toeing rhythm of "Lightworks," for instance, is enough to make the whole track feel devious. Interestingly enough, it's the drumless half of the album that has the most memorable moments—warped as it is, "Shiver" is the lushest thing here, and for my money the record's best track is "Seduction," a haunting, semi-ambient piece that presents the album's only human voice (Emika's). II is challenging enough that it will fall on a lot of deaf ears, even among techno fans. That, if anything, is a good sign: the take-it-or-leave-it attitude that shaped this LP is precisely what makes Dettmann great.
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Tracklist: Dettmann - II 01. Arise
08. Seduction feat. Emika
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