Their Testpressing series—a sequence of seven 12-inches that culminated last year—saw them emerge from the cloud of atmospherics to focus on the more palpable elements of rhythm and bass. Many of those cuts still had a deep, textural touch, but they also harnessed the frantic rave energy of jungle, garage and breakbeat techno. Wonderland, Demdike Stare's first album in five years, doesn't make a drastic break from that string of beat-driven EPs, but it does see the duo trying a few new tricks.
Something is different about Wonderland: it's not that spooky. The occult has always been part of Demdike Stare's aesthetic—from the track titles to the album art, the chilling sound design, the ominous found sounds. They even wrote and performed a live score for the cult silent film Häxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages. On Wonderland, however, they're not so concerned with that supernatural affect, and they even let a few rays of light shine through the cracks.
Melody plays a more substantial role than ever, and in general there's more of a focus on musicality over mood and texture. Three minutes into the opening track, "Curzon," we get a mournful swell of bowed strings, which is unusual given the emotional austerity of Demdike Stare's previous material. The cheery outro to "Hardnoise" almost sounds like Four Tet, with its delicate harmonies spinning in little cartwheels. On the album closer, "Overstaying," there's even a trace of tenderness in the wistful synths running behind the track's crunchy drum machines. This is the sound of Demdike Stare spreading their wings, wading into new emotional depths without getting in over their head.
Some of Wonderland's best moments are also its most aggressive. "Animal Style" has the surgical simplicity of early grime—one of those unshakeable Wiley or Benga beats produced on Playstation software. "Sourcer” is a cacophony of cut-up jungle breaks, with a rhythm that's hard to grasp until everything clicks into place all at once. There are occasional moments of striking sound design on the album, but nothing so terrifying and otherworldly as the best tracks from Elemental or Tryptych. Wonderland shies away from the textural depths the duo made their name on. But what the album lacks in psychedelic richness it makes up for with wild, off-the-cuff energy, and it sounds like Demdike Stare had a lot of fun making it.