Alex Smoke: Paradolia

Glaswegian-based Alex Smoke (Alex Menzies) trumps his 2005 debut Incommunicado with the multi-hued opus Paradolia (defined as 'the human ability to creatively perceive coherent images in randomness'). It's a wide-ranging and oft-sparkling collection of vocal house cuts and minimal electro-techno clubbers that speaks highly of Smoke's deft arranging talents.

The focus is often on pure dancefloor material. With the entrancing repetition of bell-like motifs sprinkled over wiry electro pulses, the early “Persona” casts a deep spell, its layered construction of jittery tech-house percussion patterns, chiming accents, and rubbery bass pulses offering a prime example of Smoke's finely-crafted style. In the percolating techno clubber “Meany,” the asteroid chatter of clangs, wipes, and synth stabs detonates over a spindly minimal groove while “Snider” drops an insistent machine groove that's as indebted to Detroit as it is Berlin. And, though they arrive late in the proceedings, “Formax” impresses with a springy Euro-electro pulse and firefly synth flares while “Something's Gone” sculpts an artfully orchestrated array of languid pulses and flutter into a gently streaming, wide-screen mix.

Elsewhere, Smoke's penchant for diversity distinguishes the album. The anomalous “Prima Materia” stands out for its integration of orchestral strings and horns (Smoke is classically trained in cello and piano) into an otherwise straightforward house pulse. Harder-edged beats in “We Like It Insipid,” on the other hand, bring a dose of head-nodding funk to the album. Smoke also adds variety to the album with three vocal songs. The melancholy slow-burner “Never Want To See You Again” apes Matthew Dear's Leave Luck To Heaven style with Smoke draping his distorted baritone over a low-down, bleepy groove. His sluicing voice assumes an androgynous quality on “Make My Day,” an effect consistent with the fragile flow of the song's lulling electro groove. Ultimately Paradolia impresses as a fine if overlong release (73 minutes) that showcases Smoke's diverse talents in largely successful manner.

May 2006