Monolake: Polygon_Cities

Years ago, I recall someone heralding Monolake as the natural inheritor of Kraftwerk's 'electronic visionaries' mantle, an idea that initially seemed incongruous, given the groups' markedly different styles. But Polygon_Cities, 'constructed' by Robert Henke and T++ (Cinemascope contributor and now full collaborator Torsten Profrock) and the newest chapter in the still-unfolding Monolake story, now suggests there might be some truth to the notion. Consider: both produce pristine electronic music that eschews grimy cacophony, is supremely crafted and immediately recognizable, both exploit minimal elements to the maximum degree in typically uncluttered compositions (hear, for example, in Polygon_Cities' “Pipeline” how powerful a simple and, yes, Kraftwerk-like three-note motif becomes in the right hands; Monolake's “Digitalis” even includes a recurring 'tick' rhythm sound that recalls Electric Café), and both fervently promote a utopian 'better living through technology' credo in their works. Of course there are obvious differences: Kraftwerk's focus on songs that include full-fledged vocal melodies versus Monolake's emphasis on sound settings that intermittently incorporate robotic voice samples (courtesy of Viki) as sonic texture, for starters.

The album's peak arrives in the immaculate opener “Pipeline” which combines all of Monolake's strengths in a single instance: the insistent, hypnotic throb of chugging and clanking rhythms, burbling bass lines, rat-a-tat percussion, and that simple, trance-inducing synth motif. Most of what follows never quite matches it, though “CCTV” comes close. Prodded by clicking patterns and thrumming rolls, the piece opens with jerky funk rhythms and steely washes, then slowly escalates in force; halfway through, industrial grime oppressively smothers the base while beats pinball wildly below. Propulsive techno rhythms repeatedly merge with overlays of slowly unfurling washes in other tracks though the scratchy, rolling pulse in “Invisible” underpins a more developed array of voice treatments and “Wasteland,” the album's sole beatless episode, presents a miniature drone that seems a hold-over from Henke's 2004 Signal to Noise.

Though Polygon_Cities' sound design is ravishing, I'll confess that my preferred Monolake outing remains 2003's Momentum (created by Henke alone). It's slightly harder-edged, a bit rougher, and its tracks offer greater dynamic contrasts. The new album is more controlled and rarely escalates to climaxes—in a word, more chilled. Polygon_Cities also downplays melody in favour of grooves to too great a degree for my liking (though what stunning grooves they are). It's no accident that the album's end is so memorable, given how vividly the charging funk stomp of “Plumbicon” recalls Momentum; it's also significant that it's distinguished by another minimal melodic motif that—surprise!—recalls Kraftwerk. Ultimately, the cool, cerebral stylings of Monolake's futuristic sound pursues its own distinctively sleek path.

June 2005