There's always been a playful element to Duff's style, offering an unusually light-hearted and occasionally humorous slant on techno—"some cold ass futuristic shit," his Twitter bio says. But even so, his tracks have always sounded post-human, like music made for a mechanical mind rather than a conscious one. That idea seems central to Homesick, an album that prefers frigid metal surfaces and rigid quantization over samples or vocals. It's the variety Duff finds within the formula that keeps his LP from turning into a monotonous techno full-length. It helps that the tracks are relatively brief and digestible, though captivating opener "Necronomicon" proves he can pull off nine-minute drones, too.
The straight-up techno jams on Homesick rival any of the steely, serious stuff coming out of Berlin, especially the incandescent "Augmented" or the illusory "Opium Den." Those austere tunes are gently broken up by gorgeous interludes like "Annika's Theme" (a rare moment of unguarded emotion) and "Dejected," or the smooth hydraulics of electro cruiser "Packard Plant." The LP's sequencing is remarkable, rising and falling carefully as each track carves out its own niche without going too far into the unknown. Take "HMU," a collaboration with Vin Sol that hearkens back to Matrixxman's earlier house-inspired records. It's flashier than anything else on Homesick, helping pick things back up after a dark midsection, but its bounce is channeled into the kind of loopy techno rhythm Nina Kraviz might play.
Homesick focuses on the future in an old-fashioned way, from borderline cliché titles ("Packard Plant") to the album's Midwest-inspired sound palette. "Network Failure," with its vintage drum sounds and splashes of acid squelch, could be something off an early Plus 8 record—and like everything else he's touched in the past three years, Duff pulls it off with aplomb. You don't have to look far to find techno that explores themes of the future, or techno that deals in Detroit-isms, but it's rarely done this well or with this much personality. Duff has spent the last three years putting his stamp on every style of dance music that's come to mind, usually with stellar results. Homesick is one more of those records, just in longer form. His take on the future-obsessed, sci-fi-leaning techno album equals anything else he's done, and it's no surprise, really. This is machine music for a machine-ruled future made by someone who truly loves machines.