The German DJ and producer moves beyond techno with inconsistent results.
Burn Slow is the first major outcome of this next stage, and it's also a surprising comeback. Delivered on Mute Records, Liebing's first release in eight years is clearly influenced by the label, comprised of muscular synthscapes and downtempo electronics with an '80s feel. When techno does appear—which isn't often—the tempos are slowed, and the drums deep and rolling. This leaves enough space in the mix for Burn Slow's real focus: a series of spoken-word performances. After decades in the DJ booth, Liebing wants to tell his story.
Burn Slow is about the power of dance music. But this, unfortunately, is expressed by predictable means. With guest vocalists on every other track, the LP offers yet another testimonial for clubbing as spiritual experience—a way to live in the moment. "[Meditation] is unlike almost all other things we do," says Cold Cave on the opener. "Except, perhaps, making music and dancing." The message is bluntly spelled out, especially since the rest of Burn Slow—for better or worse—tackles nowness using metaphors and dream sequences.
The collaborators' spoken passages sound intimate and haunting, and each evokes a cinematic scene. On "Card House," it's easy to imagine Miles Cooper Seaton around the campfire as he recounts the time "all creation was shimmering." Polly Scattergood's whispers cascade over sleepy techno on "And All Went Dark," a story of psychedelics and love. On the closer, Aleen explains that existence is "just a journey" as the track's atmosphere drifts like smoke.
Then there's Burn Slow's prize possession: a voiceover from Gary Numan. "Polished Chrome (The Friend Pt. 1)" is striking, with Numan's epic delivery on top of broody, John Carpenter-style synths. But the gravity of the whole thing can feel off. Perhaps it's because the track's sense of drama drastically exceeds everything else on Burn Slow. Whereas most albums have their one standout track, this one has a bona fide blockbuster. It feels as though it was made just so Numan could deliver the line, "We are all one."
Burn Slow's instrumental tracks aren't as compelling. While their gloomy moods suit the general atmosphere, you could skip them without losing the story. The LP also lacks distinct ideas, which is sometimes compounded by the desire to be dramatic. "Trilogy," in particular, is a grand gesture gone wrong. The track clocks in at almost 20 minutes—to pull off such a stunt would require clever experiments in rhythm and atmosphere. But it plods along like a moody tech-house mix. Under these conditions, it's a challenge to get lost in the moment.
Still, Burn Slow could be seen as being positive overall for Liebing. With an accessible sound, a diverse record label and a cast of meaningful collaborators, the album will help him reach wider audiences than ever before. After all, one of the artist's key strengths in music has always been the ability to make connections and grow. Burn Slow isn't the most original or exciting work. But it's a thoughtful and personal album that allows Liebing to move beyond his techno reputation with grace.
Wed / 5 Sep 2018
01. So Then… feat. Cold Cave
02. Zero One
03. And All Went Dark feat. Polly Scattergood
05. Out Of This World
06. Card House feat. Miles Cooper Seaton
07. Ghosts Of Tomorrow
08. Polished Chrome (The Friend Pt. 1) feat. Gary Numan
10. No Regrets (The Friend Pt. 2) feat. Aleen