Function: Incubation
Ostgut Ton

If ever a time capsule candidate were needed to represent state-of-the-art experimental-electronic dance music, Function's Incubation would be a great choice. In many ways, David Sumner (aka Function and Sandwell District figure) checks off pretty much all of the boxes one associates with the genre on his debut album for Ostgut Ton. There's much to recommend the Berlin-based producer's release—it's impeccable on production grounds, for one—but it's not a totally satisfying listen either.

It begins with the requisite ambient overture that's become standard practice whenever a techno producer issues a formal ‘artist album.' “Voiceprint” inaugurates the set on a brooding, sci-fi note with five minutes of twinkling synths and panning voice effects—the atmospheres beautifully rendered by Sumner, even if the track is too long by half. The scene now set, beats kick in on the second track, an acid-techno burner called “Against the Wall” that possesses all of the determination one would expect. Other uptempo pieces include “Psychic Warfare,” which turns out to be a much more controlled acid techno workout than the frenzied hell-raiser suggested by its title, and the closing “Gradient I,” which stretches its percolating techno swing across eight minutes of whooshes, sequencer patterns, and storm sounds.

“Counterpoint” revisits the ethereal spirit of the opener, though this time the experience proves more potent when Sumner introduces greater doses of urgency and anxiety to the tune's turbulent swirl. But while inarguably well-crafted, such meditations come across as stop-gaps between the album's meatier tracks, ones like “Modifier,” a classic slab of underground techno that exudes more than a little of a serpentine warehouse vibe, and “Incubation (Ritual),” a graceful and kinetic exercise in galaxial techno. In wanting to present the recording as a fully rounded album statement, Sumner ends up diluting its overall impact by countering the straight-on bangers with momentum-arresting ambient settings. Conveniently making that difference in effect explicit, Sumner gives “Voiceprint” a second go-round but amps it up with a slamming, old-school techno groove that's so dominant the surrounding elements threaten to recede into the background.

March 2013