Joel Mull: Sensory

Sensory represents the latest chapter in the aural autobiography still being written by Swedish techno producer Joel Mull. The man undoubtedly brings a wealth of experience to the new collection, his first since 2007's The Observer: his initial foray into dance music production (helped along by longtime friend and one-time classmate Adam Beyer) came about in 1993, and his DJ profile subsequently grew following gigs in his native Stockholm and a residency at Unit in Hamburg. Releases on his own Inside label, as well as on Drumcode, Code Red, Audiomatique, Cocoon, Music Man, and Harthouse, among others, have solidified the reputation he's built up over a nearly two-decade run. Though Sensory's primary focus is techno, it also shows Mull's capable handling of multiple other styles too, including ambient and dub.

The opener “Nagoya Bolero” (punctuated near its end by the alarm-like ring of a Tokyo Bullet Train door closing and iPhone-recorded ambient sounds of people talking) acts as an intro in that calm-before-the-storm kind of way, with it largely spinning its wheels for three minutes as it hints at the journey ahead. Compared to the opening track, “Smoke Room” provides a greater degree of forward drive, though it opts more for jaunty skip than propulsive drive. Nevertheless, there's no disputing the high level of craft that Mull brings to the track and its subtle dub-techno inflections, just as he does to the album in general. The album's got no shortage of hard-charging dance cuts, including the steamy club banger “Keep On” and the tech-house stomper “Holographic,” whose tribal vibe is given a trippy twist with the inclusion of Mull's own voice manipulated to distorted effect with Ableton. The material impresses when it swings with serious purpose and forward drive, cases in point “Danny Boy” (inspired by Danny Tenaglia) and the languid, synth-enhanced jam “Novelty Theory.” The penultimate “Arriving” adds a refreshingly unexpected wrinkle to the album when it sprinkles electric piano and synth textures over a raw dub groove, and the title track does much the same in capping the disc with a beatless ambient setting.

Sensory's standout is clearly “Sunday2Sunday” (Mull's own favourite too, interestingly enough), not only because it integrates all of Mull's strengths into a single piece but also for its irresistible “Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday” vocal sample and beat thrust. The track is buoyed when a glorious bass-driven pulse surfaces three minutes in, and the stabs and flares that pepper the tune's clockwork groove and vocal mantra add to the track's appeal. What elevates “Sunday2Sunday” over most of the album's other tracks is the additional emphasis it brings to melody and compositional development; aspiring to be more than just a powerful rhythm workout, the track moves through various episodes and dramatically ebbds and flows as it does so.

Though, generally speaking, the album's tracks are designed to be long-form club throwdowns, the seventy-five-minute running time ends up feeling like a bit too much of a good thing, which suggests that a minute or two could have been shaved off of the tracks without any great loss (“Attractor” and “Novelty Theory” stand out as candidates, given their near-nine-minute durations) or that perhaps nine tracks instead of eleven might have been the better total.

March 2011