Beats have by no means been abandoned. "Front End" purrs with a sleek, funky momentum familiar from the Black Dog's work. "Swuth" propels along on a sparse, Shed-ish breakbeat. "Cron Job" reverberates with the staccato rhythms of Detroit electro. These tracks are invigorating in their brutality, and adventurous DJs will make good use of them ("Siren" particularly).
Taken as a whole, however, System Fork isn't defined by motion but atmosphere. In a way that recalls Kraftwerk's Radio-Activity and the corroded textures of current industrial techno, System Fork is blasted and wintry, a devastated, wide open space, but one that echoes with distant morse code and crackles of radio static. The beats ebb and flow, but the dystopian tone, one of almost cosmic emptiness and longing, is what stays with you.
If that makes System Fork sound bleak, it is. But there is a cold, sombre beauty in its nuclear winter aesthetic, a lonesome soulfulness in its sense of alienation. The tracks that bookend it are terrifying and exhilarating, the sound of worlds falling apart. The astonishingly good (and hilariously named) "Steve Reich's Ice Cream Van" is much more delicate and wistful, its watery, refracted chimes heart-breaking. It may take months to fully absorb System Fork, an album that is, in the best possible way, uneasy listening.