Absent Without Leave: Faded Photographs Remixes
Sound In Silence

Atiq & EnK: Embracing the Unknown
Mindtrick Records

I'll admit I'm not the biggest fan of the remix album concept. There are lots of reasons, but for brevity's sake I'll mention two: with so much music in the world—and with that sum-total exponentially increasing at every moment—it hardly seems necessary for remix sets to be added to it, and furthermore whatever degree of cohesiveness one hears in an original work typically diminishes once it's been reconfigured into a set of makeovers. Some releases do satisfy despite such reservations, such as the recent Hymnal Remixes (Lost Tribe Sound) and its sterling treatments of Benoit Pioulard songs, and also worthy of recommendation are new collections by Absent Without Leave and Atiq & EnK, both of them overlong yet nevertheless strong on quality grounds.

With twenty-eight tracks spread across two compact discs, Absent Without Leave's Faded Photographs Remixes certainly gives you your money's worth. Athens, Greece-based multi-instrumentalist George Mastrokostas, incidentally, is the man behind the Absent Without Leave mask, though in the present case it's the contributors who are more relevant. One could be forgiven for seeing the release as a joint venture between Sound In Silence and n5MD considering how many of the latter's artists contribute to the project, among them Dalot, Aerosol, subtractiveLAD, Ghost Bike, Oppressed By The Line, Dreissk, Plastik Joy, To Destroy A City, Mark Harris, and Ex Confusion. Figures associated with Hidden Shoal (Slow Dancing Society), Hibernate (Olan Mill), Lost Tribe Sound (Tokyo Bloodworm), and Drifting Falling (Kontakte) also take part, as do Con_Cetta and Giardini Di Miro's Jukka Reverberi under the Dankerque moniker. Anyone familiar with such names will have guessed, and guessed correctly, that the release is a stylistically diverse affair, and that's especially so given how much the individual tracks reflect the remixers' personalities.

The journey begins on a high note with a sweeping dreamscape of symphonic scope (Dalot's “How the Winter Comes”) and makes its way thereafter through a panoply of styles, among them crunchy electronica ((ghost)'s “Old Memory Tapes,” Sun Glitters' “Daydream Lullaby”) and sparkling post-rock (Reign's suitably uplifting “Dreams and Hopes,” Eleventhfloorrecords' and To Destroy A City's “Where the Birds Fly in Winter” treatments, Kontakte's “Faded Photographs”). Also on hand are swoon-worthy reveries (Ruxpin's and Crisopa's “Balloons in the Sky” versions, Elika's “How the Winter Comes,” Slow Dancing Society's “Daydream Lullaby”), ambient meditations (Mark Harris's “Above the Trees”), guitar- and synth-based serenades (Aerosol's “Faded Photographs,” Dreissk's “Dreams and Hopes”), and towering shoegaze renderings (Landing's “Dreams and Hopes”).

With no disrespect to those involved, not every artist's contribution needs to be mentioned; suffice it to say, it's quality stuff from start to finish, and the remixers haven't let Mastrokostas down. In a number of cases, an Absent Without Leave original receives multiple makeovers (“Old Memory Tapes” and “Dreams and Hopes,” for example, both appear four times), but the results prove to be different enough that the album sidesteps repetitiveness. A considerable amount of ground is covered over the course of the two-and-a-half-hour trip, and in that regard it wouldn't be unreasonable to regard Faded Photographs Remixes as a comprehensive overview of current electronica-related practice.

Embracing the Unknown, a nineteen-track (three digital-only) remix album of Atiq & EnK's superb 2013 collection Fear of the Unknown, is as encompassing as Absent Without Leave's. It's dramatically unlike it in terms of style and mood, however: whereas the general focus of Faded Photographs Remixes might be said to be refined ambient electronica, Embracing the Unknown opts for a widescreen dark electronica presentation that touches upon a wide range of experimental territories, among them drum'n'bass, dub-techno, dubstep, and jungle. If the label touchstone for Absent Without Leave's set is n5MD, the touchstones for Atiq & EnK's include Tympanik Audio and Ad Noiseam.

Like Fear of the Unknown, Embracing the Unknown takes its cue from the haunted, collage-styled “Intro” and specifically the portentous voice samples (“They are afraid of new ideas … What they do instead is stay with the familiar…”) that re-occur throughout the recording and thus act as a unifying detail. Deep, dark, and dystopic are words that come to mind as one takes in the recording's ninety-three action-packed minutes. In keeping with the Tympanik Audio style, the tracks are often ambitious in arrangement, epic in pitch, and muscular in rhythm.

Tangent and Zinovia set the bar high at the outset with blistering takes on “Moonlit Tea Party” and “Stay With the Familiar,” after which Roel Funcken (of Funckarma fame) contributes a writhing treatment of “My Obligation.” EVS lets a bit of dub-techno seep into his “Sim One” makeover, while “Stay With The Familiar” takes on a bit of a downtempo trip-hop vibe once deeB's done with it. Elsewhere, “My Obligation” becomes a bulldozing and smoldering headnodder in The Illuminated's hands; Hajee's “Like An Angel's Feather” wobbles with wiry dubstep fever; and an MC's biting flow in He3dless's “The Moment of Truth” adds a smattering of hip-hop grime to the proceedings. Atiq himself even gets into the act by contributing a doom-laden remix of “Moonlit Tea Party” before Rotterdam producer Deformer reimagines “Sim One” as a rampaging jungle throwdown (one can easily picture drummers rushing to their kits to try to duplicate the cut's thrumming beat pattern) and Sinister Souls injects “Like An Angel's Feather” with drum'n'bass thunder. It's all solid stuff, though perhaps the set's strongest (and clubbiest) track comes from Inofaith whose “What Was That” rolls out a gritty electro-funk groove that swings with the most serious of purpose.

Embracing the Unknown turns out to be an excellent companion volume to Fear of the Unknown for a couple of reasons. Both share a dystopic tone and overall dark electronica style, even if the cohesiveness of the original is naturally compromised to some degree by the participation of multiple producers in the remix set. The quality level is high in both releases, however, which means that anyone who was won over by Atiq & EnK's will probably have much the same reaction to Embracing the Unknown.

April 2014