KiloWatts: Undercurrent

P. Laoss: Landscapes & Machines

On Undercurrent, Jamie Watts' (aka KiloWatts) focus is less on propulsion and more on weaving simple yet memorable melodies into entrancing set-pieces of contrasting moods. The eight settings are largely keyboard-oriented with what sounds like a Moog Voyager (Roger O'Donnell's instrument of choice, it's heard prominently on the 2006 album, The Truth In Me, and 2008's Songs From The Silver Box) taking the lead melodic role in some of them; in “Rode Falls,” for example, the instrument's strong voice allows the piece's main melody to clearly differentiate itself from the dense mass around it. Similarly, a serpentine Moog melody turns mantra-like “Seed” when it repeats against a swirling backdrop of percussive accents and whooshes.

The album's languorous character is established immediately with the aptly-titled “Cascade Serenade,” a tone “ Rode Falls ” perpetuates despite the presence of a gently insistent beat pattern that anchors the full-flowering synthetic mix blossoming above. As the album title signifies, Undercurrent is not solely about pretty surface melodies but also the darker rumblings below. “Couette,” for example, begins with a seaside reverie where waves gently crash ashore, but the song's mood gradually turns oppressive and even threatening when darker clouds roll in, portending an imminent storm. The prettier side of Watts' music-making is showcased in “The Undercurrent Is Love” where multiple synthesizer melodies dance in joyful counterpoint, while the “The Moment Just Before Dawn” inches towards a crescendo of sorts during its dozen minutes. With the tracks often presenting themselves as intricately layered and textured wholes topped by melodic mantras, Undercurrent often sounds as if Watts compiled a bank of strong micro-melodies (such as the wistful one coursing through “Ayandan”), then built the tracks around them—assembling the tracks from the center outwards, in other words, rather than from the ground up.

On his first full-length release for Somnia under the P.Laoss name, André Müller (aka Vakuum Sounds) presents nine dub-styled vistas teeming with heavy textural atmosphere, reverb-drenched chords, and ricocheting percussive accents. The opening two-part “Landscapes & Machines” sets the stage with texturally detailed beatless landscapes before “Situated on a Hill” adds a deep bass-driven rhythm dimension to the album. The material gravitates towards dub-techno in “Metabolism” when a lad-back shuffle pulse gives the music a gentle push, and plunges deeper still when the metallic thrust of “Non-Reflective” enters the picture. The album's peak cut, “D.I.V.E.,” broils agitatedly for ten wide-screen minutes as it wends its way through dense thickets of percolating pops and steely smears while a swinging dub-house pulse rises from the depths to drive the track forward. The closing “Landscapes & Machines Pt. 4” makes its presence felt with clangorous chords loudly punctuating an otherwise peaceful landscape. Though Landscapes & Machines is clearly drawing upon the music productions of Chain Reaction, Rhythm'n'Sound, Deepchord, Soultek, Intrusion, et al., it's nonetheless a solid, hour-long collection that won't disappoint devotees of the digital dub genre. Consistent with Somnia's commitment to refined electronic sculpting, both Undercurrent and Landscapes & Machines stay true to the label's independent spirit, which emphasizes special, hand-made electronic releases over mass-produced materials.

August 2009