VA: State of the Union 2 EP
Spectral Sound

Geoff White: Etsche
Spectral Sound

Hieroglyphic Being: Liquid Sex EP
Spectral Sound

Established in 2000, Ghostly's sub-label Spectral Sound cleaves to dance-rooted variations of underground tech-house while its parent label pursues more ambient and pop-flavoured tangents. Spectral's distinguished catalogue includes releases by Osborne (Afrika), James T. Cotton (The Dancing Box), and Matthew Dear (Leave Luck To Heaven)—all of whom contributed to the first State of the Union EP, a showcase for the label's Ann Arbor talent. The second installment, one of three new Spectral 12-inch discs, points the geographical compass north with a capsule portrait of Montréal's electronic techno scene; in fact, the set could be broached as a mini-MUTEK primer (though that in itself isn't terribly significant at this stage, given the sum-total of artists who've appeared at the annual festival). Boosted by a skanking bass lurch, Deadbeat (Scott Monteith) checks in with some fleet-footed dub-house on “Sleazy Skankin'” while Mike Shannon layers spindly clatter and snapping snares over dramatically ascending themes in “Blind Love.” The Mole's “Date” stomps through its opening half before turning steamy in the second, with the song's exotic touches recalling Portable though given a heavier punch. Still, while all three outings are good enough, more spectacular samplings of the artists' work would have better equaled the strength of the Montréal scene in general.

Geoff White, another MUTEK alumnus, follows the fluid minimal techno of last year's Ince 12-inch with three kindred samplings on Etsche. All are meticulously crafted, if prone to repetition. Though it includes nimble scurrying rhythms, the looped acoustic strums and punctuating shuffles in “Guitarjacked,” for example, are largely unvarying. The title cut's better, its roiling waves of percolating pinpricks dominating as shimmering washes float through the background. Best of all, White references the immersive spirit of dub with slowly tweaked clanging slams in “Scillecta.”

Interestingly enough, the most memorable disc of the lot, Hieroglyphic Being's Liquid Sex (Jamal Moss's second Spectral 12-inch), eschews cerebral techno for a comparatively retrograde analog style that resurrects classic Chicago House. Draping bright synth smears and glimmers over subtle tribal rhythms and rollicking pulses, the title cut stokes a slow but potent broil as accumulating elements gradually deepen the echoing atmospheres. The two tracks on the B-side are the real stunners, though, especially the incredible “Dreams De Illusionairies” where Moss weaves a vertiginous array of swirling loops over the course of ten mesmerizing minutes. There's incessant activity throughout—phased squeals fluttering amongst bass throbs, ammo-like hammerings of snare hits, exploding showers of jubilant synth firings—yet, the moment it sounds poised to fly off its rails, a bass drum pounds forth to anchor it in place. In an equally great “Liquid Sex” remix, Portable's irresistibly infectious style takes mere seconds to assert itself. The track's slowly morphing weave of tribal percussion, organ shimmer, exotic flute calls, and acidy synth croaks is a wonder to behold.

While the three discs polish Spectral's template to varying degrees of sheen, they all make good on the imprint's wish to bridge the past with the future and art with dance. And though pieces by Deadbeat and White seem more akin to run-on grooves than full-fledged compositions, it shouldn't be forgotten that these are not Ghostly but Spectral releases with the club their foremost intended target as opposed to the living room. Sounding fabulous anywhere, Liquid Sex, on the other hand, requires no such qualification.

April 2005