Intricate: In Pectra

Hiphoptronica isn't a new concept, as evidenced by recent releases like Spectre's Retrospectre and Alias's Muted; Autechre also has been vulnerable to its lure, as “Gelk” from Peel Session 2 attests. But rarely have the two styles been integrated as elegantly as they are on In Pectra by Intricate (Thomas Federspiel and Fabian Stübi). What distinguishes Intricate's sound is that hip hop and electronica are the fertile soil out of which its music grows, as opposed to faux-Hiphoptronica outings where contrived beats are grafted onto electronic structures. Unfortunately, only part of In Pectra fits this template, with some parts too reminiscent of Autechre for its own good. Rather than wholly celebrate another amazing outing from Switzerland-based Spezialmaterial to complement its other recent full-length, Traject's marvelous Strengir Hrynja, one gushes over one half while indulging the familiar tropes of the remainder.

Of the ten pieces (the disc's final four already heard on the group's In Conclusion EP), four are stunners, all of which, significantly, incorporate voice elements as key compositional components. The opening nine-minute “Efforts” builds tension slowly as it evolves through multiple stages. A foreboding theme is quickly joined by a woman's voice, chopped and spliced into a repeating loop, as more electronic accents emerge. The track floats rather unassumingly along in this manner for a few minutes but then escalates to a more intense level with atmospheric synth patterns laid overtop, the repetition of its elements becoming increasingly hypnotic. The woman's voice then disappears—Intricate typically signals a new stage by dropping beats out momentarily before the next episode—and is replaced by a plaintiff's courtroom plea. Again the man's words are chopped into garbled fragments but not arbitrarily; Intricate carefully configures them into a potent rhythmic motif that joins the now-densely layered construction as it moves towards its end. Put simply, “Efforts” is a peak the remainder of the album matches only intermittently.

The penultimate “Deliberate On” comes close, however. Following a spooky chordal splash, a man's voice stutteringly intones “If we can get those air factories working soon, there'll be nobody left on Kestle for the alliance to liberate” to incredible effect as it will do throughout in various chopped configurations. Intricate deepens the track with a massive hip hop beat that barrels in accompanied by buzzing bass tones and clanking percussion, making for an irresistibly funky array. A male voice also runs throughout “Solskar” (“It was now mid-August which meant that he'd been separated from Marsha for more than two months…”), joining its intricate interweave of electronic whirrs, and scrapes, and “Replace” pairs a classic, rather Plaid-like melody with morphing beats; electronics shoot past like meteors, as voice stutters struggle to be heard before collapsing into incoherent babble.

The rest of In Pectra doesn't match this level. “Slide,” a brief exercise in clipped beat construction, is accomplished but adds little to similar tracks already perfected by Autechre, and “Ward To,” “Pact,” and “Squirl” are likewise indebted to the group's sound and style (“Ward To,” for instance, marries complex rhythm patterns with churchy melodies, a by now too-familiar ploy). Furthermore, “Squirl” and “Spot_ing,” while expertly crafted, are more grooves than full-fledged compositions. Had all of In Pectra's tracks equalled “Efforts” and “Deliberate On,” we'd be celebrating a masterwork rather than contemplating the stunner it might have been. If there's a saving grace, the two aforesaid peaks offer a superb template for Intricate's future work.

September 2004