Clearly, I've been tagged as RA's go-to for dewy-ewed, "emotive" dance music. Several months after openly pleading for his return in a Max Cooper review, UK wunderkind Nathan Fake's second album on James Holden's Border Community falls to me. After ubiquitous mix- and set-list favorites like "Outhouse" and "Dinamo," Fake's debut album Drowning in a Sea of Love—with its melancholic, peach-fuzz tone, shoegaze textures and Boards of Canada-indebted songcraft—was something of a puzzler for many listeners hoping for bouncier house fare. Instead, Sea of Love was serene, a melding of hazy M83 synths and subtle rhythms that spent far more time meandering than bumping.
Now after over two years of relative silence from Fake comes his second album proper, Hard Islands. Though billed by BC as a "new harder-edged Nathan Fake," the record's still more IDM than proper techno, straddling the line between Sea of Love's melodic day-trip soundtracking and some of the slightly less demented sonics and atmospheres of classic Warp acts like Aphex Twin or even LFO. On the former end, with its chunky lo-fi beat and pulsing synth patterns, "Basic Mountain" could have been one of Sea's b-sides; it's a good example of the kind of thumpy, martian electronica Fake's so good at and one of the record's simplest compositions, more concerned with tone than pace. Elsewhere, the smudgy melodic interlude "The Curlew" returns to the quicksilver pastorals of Fake's beloved BoC, and atop a pock-marked beat and blurry effects, "Narrier" makes the most of its bee-sting melody, the sound of a little pin-prick beast forming a large bump.
Sometimes on Hard Islands however, you sense Fake straining against Sea of Love's placidity, increasingly relying on effects, faster BPMs and the editing tricks he's become known for in his sets (Fake began stitching these tracks into his performances from an early stage of development, allowing them to evolve within a live audience context). With its stubby bass, and short, sputtering synth tones, "The Turtle" is dizzyingly spun together; the track's in an almost manic state of exchange and change, with Fake trying to hold it all in focus around another of his fizzy horizontal melodies. "Castle Rising" becomes similarly unhinged; Fake filters in spastic noises and slivers of static as the pace increases, a shimmery bit of chaos.
Perhaps more successful is excellent closer "Fentinger," which aims for Aphex Twin's corrosive industrialism. Fake undercuts its simple beat with subtle rhythmic ticks and undercurrents; he chops up the bass and layers in rapid-fire synthetic hi-hats around its acidic core. But just as the track begins to come unhinged, he clears the clutter, fading into a foggy morning interlude. It's a final two minutes that mirrors the youthful intimacy of his debut, something Fake is clearly attempting to distance himself from as a producer. Regardless of your thoughts about Sea of Love, Hard Islands illustrates just enough evolution in Fake as a producer that it has to be taken on its own terms. After over two years of near silence, I think I speak for many within the RA community when I say: It's about goddamn time.
Buy Nathan Fake - Hard Islands at
Tracklist: Nathan Fake - Hard Islands 01. The Turtle
02. Basic Mountain
03. Castle Rising
04. The Curlew
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