On the whole Power Tools follows a far more ambient route than its predecessor Disillusion, Desire, Consumption, released in 2006 for free by Net Lab. "Hz Volt" and "Theme for Failed Space Shuttle Launch," for example, traverse ethereal planes, with "Vacuum Forming" and "Pressure Release" barely nudged through chimey atmospheric hues. "Unstable Nucleophiles" is the brashest track off the album and only real nod to Voltek's Wrong Music and breakcore affinities. Alluding to the camp's more tongue-in-cheek factions with its plinky plonky gaming intro, it is still fairly tame in comparison.
Elsewhere "Electraum" superbly delivers that potent blend of abrasive techno programming with twinkling melodies that made—and makes—IDM so damn compulsive. It nails down the Warp / Rephlex formula of being uplifting in an eyes-down sort of way, not quite danceable and yet seriously catchy. There are jungle touches here too, in a lolloping slo-mo Squarepusher fashion on "Exercise 1.3" and "Midland Mainline."
The only—mild—problem with all of this, to use Barker's own metaphor of genres as languages, is that Power Tools comes across a little tongue-tied, and wears the mask of a concept album without actually delivering one. However, at base value—"experiments"—Voltek displays thoughtful sound design and sensitive craftsmanship throughout. The use of hardware equipment, including old synths, distortion pedals and even a Theremin wraps Power Tools in a hazy analogue glow and seems to pacify even the most pummelling tracks. The fact that it spans a decade of production—with a track even dredged up from Barker's school days—isn't immediately detectable, though perhaps goes a way to explain its inconsistency. If this is indeed Sam Barker finding his voice, I look forward to hearing what he says next.