Plastikman: Closer

Richie Hawtin's Plastikman returns after a five-year absence with Closer, a recording markedly unlike its predecessor Consumed. The titles obviously hint at the differences, with Consumed and Closer respectively suggesting contrasting states of self-absorption and intimacy. Hawtin has moved away from his former cavernous sound in favour of a less severely minimalistic template on the new release. While there are subtle stylistic changes, the most conspicuous is the addition of Hawtin's heavily processed vocals. The distortion conceals his natural voice, much as some stereotypical kidnapper might camouflage his telephone voice, thereby giving it a foreboding quality. A compelling tension is created, then, between the confessional tone of the lyrics and the distancing effect Hawtin deploys for their delivery. Thematically Closer mines Consumed's paranoiac ground, with his stark admissions of confusion and uncertainty now overt.

There is no shortage of delights to speak of, given the fecundity of Hawtin's imagination and the stylistic diversity of his ambient, house, and techno tracks. Closer's dark mood is established portentously at the outset of “Ask Yourself” with a distant voice (“I guess it's a good place to start”) followed by ominous hiss and synth drones. The sudden appearance of Hawtin's hoarse voice (“Why listen to me?/I'm just a voice inside your head/I can't help you/Help yourself”) amidst disturbing tearing noises and textural clicks makes for an auspicious beginning. Soon after, the woozy “Lost” gives way to “Disconnect,” whose off-key bleeping noises alternate with Hawtin's distressed vocals. The shifting pitches induce a sickly feel which perfectly complements the lyrical content of masochism and disorientation (“I'm starting to enjoy the pain”). The pulverizing crescendo in the middle testifies to Closer's extroverted character. Another highlight, “Slow Poke (Twilight Zone Mix),” registers as a master class in electronic textures with its gaseous accents, percussive pings, and whoops. “I Don't Know” ends Closer with Hawtin expressing confusion (“I don't know what you're looking at/What you're listening to/What you're thinking about”') while shimmering hi-hats and snare hits pepper the propulsive rhythm.

On the one hand, it's heartening that Hawtin is so willing to connect with his listeners, but the vocal treatments arguably cheapen the music by presenting the threatening qualities of the music so literally. In spite of this caveat, Closer represents a bold step forward. Hawtin manages to merge the insular claustrophobia of his former style with a bolder expansiveness, resulting in ten tracks that pursue contrasting stylistic paths yet cohere into a satisfying whole. However dour its themes and however dark its ambiance, Closer remains an incredible journey as well as a towering testament to Hawtin's artistry.

December 2003