Pan/Tone: Newfound Urban Calm

Not long ago, Jake Fairley's Touch Not The Cat was being touted in some circles—promotionally, at least—as the techno album of 2004 and, predictably, the album didn't live up to the hype—‘twas good enough but hardly a god amongst mortals. A much more credible candidate (if one not quite able to topple Ada's Blondie from its throne) arrives in Newfound Urban Calm by Pan/Tone, a Canadian expatriate (real name: Sheldon Sidney LeRock, also Shelbono Del Monte) now residing in Cologne. Vocals and deep melodic emphasis render Blondie more accessible than Pan/Tone's release which hews to starker techno templates throughout. He brings an impressive CV to the BiP_HOp opus, having performed at MUTEK, in Europe and Japan, and issued releases on labels like Background Records, Onitor (as Gringo Grinder), Neuton, Revolver, and Sub-Static. And I do mean opus, because this two-disc set weighs in at a formidable one hundred and thirty six minutes.

Given how fine the gradations are separating techno styles, how is LeRock's different from others? Compared to the sleek sheen of Kompakt's style, Pan/Tone's is more skeletal on the one hand yet the abundance of mercurial activity in constant play renders a 'minimal' label patently inapplicable. Its punchy techno + rock fusion (what Pan/Tone christens 'Rockno') is also often unapologetically aggressive, much like T. Raumschmiere's similarly pile-driving style; hear, for example, how relentlessly the grimy “Unexplained Stains” pounds towards its close. LeRock's got a jones for schaffel, too, judging by the low-slung beats that crawl through “Nil Lights” and “Radio Dispatch.”

LeRock sequences the first disc so that the album gradually gathers force. Starting with the restrained overture “Sans Adore,” its scratchy clicking patterns anchored by a slithering bass motif, Pan/Tone moves into the nimble Basic Channel dub-techno and clickhouse hybrid “No Pecos Por Favor.” Further along, rolling clatter and criss-crossing voices in the pounding “Urban Calm” grow ever more disorientating as it unfolds across its near-ten minutes. Admittedly, by the time the jittery electro-techno of “Lilo (Last In, Last Out)” appears at the end of disc one, some weariness will have understandably set in.

As solid as Pan/Tone's own disc is, though, the remix album—ten tracks, from the fifteen sent to friends for reworking—upstages it with a naturally broader stylistic range and a handful of extraordinary cuts. Rene Breitbarth contributes a delectably swaying Kompakt-styled “Sans Adore Rmx,” while Adam Marshall and Repair provide broiling bass-driven and infectious electro-house treatments respectively. Andy Vaz and Jeff Milligan take the microsampling route, Vaz's a buoyant “No Pecos Rmx” and Milligan's “Por Favor Rmx” an hypnotic concoction of voice snippets and whirrs. Perhaps the perfect exemplar of Pan/Tone's 'Rockno' style, Losoul's “Zut Alore Rmx” pairs jittery synths with ringing snare thwacks in a spacious mix that seduces most potently when its undertow of creeping bass lines surfaces. Duplex 100 adds a shimmying electrofunk mix that slides and skitters, while Frank Martiniq's “Urban Calm Rmx” turns the original's rolling clatter into a whomping goosestep with a fuzzy lurch smacking its voices in every bar. There's even a sensual vocal turn from mia (with lyrics lifted from Dire Straits' “The Sultans of Swing”) who joins Falko Brocksieper on an electro-techno “Je Vous Adore Rmx.” Finally, Douglas Bedford closes the album in fine fashion with a dubbed-out Si-cut.db “Adore Rmx.” Regardless of whether it's the quality of the original material or the inspired efforts of the contributors that's the cause, the album's as strong a remix collection as one might hope to hear.

Newfound Urban Calm offers no epiphanies and neither is it genre-defining. However, as LeRock's goals are presumably more modest, the release should be broached instead as a representative collection of Pan/Tone material complemented by a generous helping of remixes. On those terms it succeeds marvelously, and, in spite of its daunting volume, stands out as one of the most impressive techno releases of the year.

December 2004