VA: VA 002
Tiptop Audio Records

I never ceased to be amazed by the endless variations techno artists are able to generate within their chosen field. Admittedly, much the same could be said of any genre and its artists—jazz with its fundamental basis in swing and rock in 4/4—but it's especially striking that decades after its birth techno producers still manage to genuinely surprise. No better recent example illustrates the accomplishment than VA 002, the second compilation of its kind from Tiptop Audio Records.

In keeping with the modular synthesizer focus of the California-based Tiptop Audio company (founded in 2009 by Gur Milstein), the label offshoot emphasizes the production of analog tracks created using modular synthesizers. And though VA 002 might not have been conceived for the sole purpose of promoting the company's products, it can't help but do so when the sound design of its ‘Modular Techno' content is at such a high level. Available in digital and physical formats, the latter as a double-vinyl set, the ten clubby tracks (twelve counting the digital extras) make a strong case for Tiptop Audio's label.

A number of tracks stand out as particularly strong: Matt Lange's dizzying “QVCAMX” inaugurates the set with an infectiously strutting stomp whose breezy swing won't be denied; rich in synthesizer-heavy syncopation, Joao Ceser's sleek “System Failure” lunges forward with muscular insistence, its brooding tone lifted up by its elastic, techno-funk groove; and without question, the most unusual piece on the collection is Black Shape's “Doom Room,” which overlays its grinding groove with blues-country dobro licks played by Fabrizio Canale and vocals by Piero Fragola.

Pronounced track differences surface repeatedly, from Angle's bubbly, fleet-footed “Time Portraits” to Drumcell & Luis Flores's lugubrious, industrial-strength “Submission of Thought.” In an inspired move, Robin Rimbaud follows John Tejada's funky body-mover “Fourier Transform” with a prototypically ear-catching Scanner track “Valbor” that caps the release on a somewhat avant-garde note. The extra digital tracks—“Look Inside” and “Riemann LIVE -1” by M.O.T and Riemann, respectively—merit their bonus status as they're not at the same level as the release's other content, but their supplemental character hardly sullies the generally positive impression left by this largely high-quality affair.

March 2016