Labour Division succeeds as an album, however, not because Al "Smear" Matthews and Patrick Walker know how to drive you over the edge at 5 AM. No, it works because, in the pounding piston-funk of "Nihil Novi," as much as in the droning, gloaming ambience of "Fading Centres," this is an album of audible soul music. It is hard, but it has heart.
FSG revel in pure sound, of course. This is chewy music steeped in Pole-esque levels of crackle, hiss and decay. But that carefully created patina always has an honest purpose. It never becomes a cerebral exercise. When Matthews and Walker dive into dub techno's warm gaseous depths it does not sound like a hackneyed device. It sounds freshly poignant. These are two blokes focused, you sense, not on technique or function for its own sake, but ultimately on how, by fine-tuning a snare sound, you can evoke all manner of human emotion.
Granted, non-believers are unlikely to reach that revelation. To them, Labour Division will sound like any number of techno records they might hear this year: bleak, grey music trapped, sonically and psychologically, in some rank concrete basement. Ostensibly, they're right. FSG make fellow travellers such as DVS1 and Peter Van Hoesen sound positively frivolous. But listen, and from that unpromising tight corner, huddled in that crumbling nook with only Nitzer Ebb and the toughest Ostgut Ton releases for company, FSG illustrate just how vivid and varied, how contagiously energetic life can be in those dark recesses.
"Mandate," for one, is beautifully, breathlessly oppressive; an oxygen-starved track to fuel a thousand Berghain sub-dom fantasies. In its unrelenting pneumatic intensity, "Elegant Mistakes" evokes something of the almost religious austerity of Photek's best work. "Industry & Empire," meanwhile, is straight out of the queasy Andy Stott school. Even the album's weaker moments—cute, melodic darkwave opener, "Ident," or the closing track, "Cultivah," a distinctly rocky post-punk outburst that wouldn't sound out of place in Trent Reznor's back catalogue—twist familiar ideas into interesting new shapes. Perhaps, ultimately, FSG aren't quite as powerfully angry as their label boss, Perc, nor as monumental as Shed. But they deserve to be filed alongside either.