Villalobos and Loderbauer have worked together extensively, remixing everyone from Nightmares On Wax to Neneh Cherry and re-versioning a chunk of the ECM catalogue for 2011's Re:ECM. Connecting all of this work is the use of pre-existing source material. The duo tweak, embellish or radically reframe, but their subtle, exquisitely strange electronics always rest on a foundation of somebody else's music. On Safe In Harbour, the duo's first full-length of original material, that foundation is removed. This steers them towards the airless spaces of Villalobos's solo work, though with Loderbauer in tow, the minimal pioneer seems willing to venture further into the unknown.
Safe In Harbour follows the duo's other original release, 2013's Turbo Sematic EP, right down to the queasy monologue in opener "Modern Hit Midget." The source this time is the between-song banter from a concert recording of The Modern Jazz Quartet, reflecting the duo's love of jazz—although, repitched to a chipmunk squeak over a wobbly downtempo groove, its use hardly seems reverential. The rest of the album is equally weird: the beats are swampy and unstable, while the mid- and hi-range teems with minutely sculpted details. Only "Surmasky Blow" hints at the firmer techno chassis that underpins many of Villalobos's solo productions. Elsewhere, we float free.
In this respect Safe From Harbour is, like its partner albums, audophile's music. Sheer sonic pleasure often seems to be the main goal. Crucial musical details are buried deep in the mix, waiting for keen ears to pick them out. It's easy to imagine the duo hunched in front of Villalobos's spectacular Martion horns, enjoying a sonic experience that few in their audience can hope to replicate.
But unlike Sounding Lines, Safe In Harbour never fully retreats into this inaccessible world. The title track, ten minutes of densely woven micro-rhythms, is punctuated by subtle Rhodes-like chords, which function as waymarkers in the labyrinth. Similar chords surface across the album, giving it a surprisingly noir-ish tone. They're present even when the duo venture furthest out, on "Beefdes," whose tumbling dialogue between synths and live drums is the record's most original moment. As its title suggests, Safe In Harbour is the sound of two experienced artists firmly ensconced in their own world. Fortunately for us, they've made some accommodation for visitors.