SubtractiveLAD: Kindred

Having six full-lengths under one's belt likely means considerable stylistic territory has been covered over the course of one's recording career and that some degree of artistic restlessness is always in play when the blueprint for the next project starts getting drawn up. That's where we find Stephen Hummel at the start of his seventh SubtractiveLAD opus Kindred, where we discover him incorporating into his expansive sound-world Berlin-based krautrock and kosmische music. Elements associated with previous SubtractiveLAD releases surface in the form of post-rock signifiers and electric guitar playing, but the styles and approach of his past work are downplayed, making the Kindred a brand new chapter for the chameleonic Hummel, even if it's one that finds its inspiration in the pioneering electronic music associated with groups such as Tangerine Dream and Cluster.

The hour-long recording includes six tracks, with the opening two extended journeys of ambitious scope. “The Available Light” begins with four minutes of ‘70s-styled whooshes colliding with sheets of white noise before a pulsating analog synth pattern establishes an anchor for layers of explorative flurries. That serpentine synth pulsation obviously invites comparison to Tangerine Dream (one of Hummel's major influences) in its Phaedra-Rubycon-Ricochet era and signifies Hummel taking a full kosmische musik plunge. Ten minutes in, however, acoustic drums elbow the material into a zone whose synth-heavy ambiance suggests krautrock, even if the beats are a tad less taut and motorik than the krautrock norm. Pushing the track's episodic approach and epic reach to a logical conclusion, the addition of blues-drenched electric guitar playing to the piece's closing section gives the material a rather prog-like edge. The piece's twenty-two-minute running time suggests that it would be right at home occupying the full opening side on a vinyl album, while the next piece, “Hesperus Is Phosphorus,” as a slightly shorter epic the natural brethren to the opener, would work best as the album's closer. The major thing distinguishing the second piece from the first is the presence of a mid-track vocal episode where Hummel builds his voice into a sweeping choir that provides a smooth transition into the ambient section that follows.

“What You See” sees another shift in direction occur when Hummel works a bit of Drexciya-styled future-techno in amongst the tune's machine-driven whooshes and pulsations. The track's relatively shorter time frame (it still checks in at just under nine minutes) means that “What You See” is more unwavering and direct in its focus on a single mood, and the piece ultimately stands out as one of the album's best for exemplifying such clear-headed focus. “Hello, Goodbye” would appear to have been hauled in from some other recording session altogether, given how different its pretty acoustic melodies and laid-back, early morning vibe is from the album's other tracks—until, that is, a synthesizer squiggle slowly moves to the forefront and spirits the track away into the same hemisphere inhabited by the other four. It wouldn't be pushing things too far to see “Hello, Goodbye” as a microcosm of sorts for Hummel's SubtractiveLAD project in toto in its determination to constantly challenge, sometimes thwart, expectations and extend its stylistic purview into unpredictable areas. If the recording's last flourish, Hummel chanting “Goodbye,” turns out to be the formal end to the SubtractiveLAD story rather than simply the close of one more chapter in an ongoing series, the body of work that he's accumulated over the course of seven albums is certainly impressive.

March 2011