Somfay: A Catch in the Voice

Archipel claims Jesse Somfay's A Catch in the Voice sounds like “Boards of Canada working with James Holden or Minilogue” and the characterization isn't far off. Over two years in the making, the double-CD set asks to be seen as the Ontario, Canada producer's boldest artistic statement to date. It's certainly not techno in the conventional sense: beats don't hit hard in relentless 4/4 manner but rather tend to drift through the mix, rising to the surface at one moment and then slowly receding, and sharing the spotlight with fuzzy melodies of quietly euphoric nature (the early epic “Hypnogogii” a case in point). The material, which also has been called “Border Community-style electronica,” might best be described as more of a “Dominik Eulberg-meets-BOC” fusion, given that it conjoins the Eulberg's melodic and techno smarts with Boards of Canada's indelible production aesthetic. One holdover from Somfay's previous output is his penchant for long-form tracks with half of the sixteen tracks nine minutes or more. That he's got his sights on something more than just straight-up-techno is apparent too in the inclusion of meditative settings that alternate with the epics (“Brave Late Fade,” “Folding Ghosts Into Origami Stars,” and “Something Smallest” owe more to Eluvium and Tim Hecker than Villalobos and Hawtin). That his ethereal material is out-of-this-world by design is further suggested by track titles such as “Borealis” and “Irradian Irradiant.”

The brief intro, “Elegian Station,” sounds like Somfay trying to dial up his favourite intergalactic DJ before leaving terra firma via the destabilizing haze of “Cuckoo Spit” where sounds swim in an aquatic dub-like mix that's as purposefully out-of-focus as Entain and Multila. Don your space gear and strap yourself in when the ascent takes wing during “Good Morning Strange Light,” a surging and softly-pounding super nova that grows ever-more ecstatic during its eleven-minute run. Like much of the material in the collection, “Ex Astris, Ad Astra” is suffused with both reverie and nostalgia, especially when much of it, melodically speaking, is given over to church-like organ ruminating. The good times continue in the second half, with thumping beats and jubilant melodies merging memorably in the percolating “Amo Alucinor” and the quietly rapturous “Borealis” easing the listener through the re-entry. Though the album at times plunges more deeply into a particular style (e.g., IDM for “Irradian Irradiant”), it largely transcends genre by integrating elements from a number of them into separate wholes. Call it “post-techno,” “space-techno,” “trance-techno,” or whatever else you like ‘cos labels ultimately don't count for much. What does is that Somfay here pushes beyond familiar boundaries into a personalized zone that's very satisfying indeed.

May 2009