Displacer: Night Gallery
In featuring the usual blend of programmed beats, dramatic ambient atmospheres, and melancholy keyboard melodies, Displacer's Night Gallery can in many ways be seen as a prototypical Tympanik Audio release. Not that that's a bad thing by any stretch, as the album is as polished on production grounds as anything else we've heard from the label. This first Displacer full-length in five years is the brainchild of Torontonian Michael Morton, who issued material on the French label M-Tronic between 2003-06 and followed it with the 2008 Tympanik Audio release The Witching Hour (filling out the picture, a collaborative project, X Was Never Like This, and free download EP, Lost Mission, also appeared in 2009).
The opener, “Phantom Limb,” neatly encapsulates the Displacer style in coupling a melancholy piano motif with a robust beat pattern that's as much indebted to breakbeats, funk, and hip-hop (trip-hop if you prefer), while the later “Awakening” accomplishes much the same if in slightly more apocalyptic manner. Morton mixes things up by bringing different styles into the fold, whether it be a beatless vignette of brooding soundscaping (“Wave,” “In Limbo”) or a viral riff on drum'n'bass (“Radioactive”). “Falling” even finds him taking a stab at vocal-based synth-pop, even if he does rough up the song with a degraded vocal treatment and multiple coats of industrial grime. His affinity for trip-hop comes through during “Ghost Planet,” where a crisp funk pulse is paired with a melody line vaguely suggestive of the Far East, while the closing piece, “Ice Cold,” is an icy ambient setting of symphonic washes and guitar-laced textures that suggests it wouldn't be inconceivable to hear Displacer appearing on some future Glacial Movements release. Throughout the album, Morton's drum programming proves to be one of his music's stronger features in that, while it's sometimes intricate, a clear sense of groove never gets lost in the process. Another plus is that the release's eleven tracks total forty-three minutes, which makes for a more satisfying listen than had the album weighed in at, say, a bloated seventy-five and been padded with remixes.
On Queue the distance separating Tympanik Audio and n5MD grows very small indeed—not surprisingly, given the involvement of n5MD artists SubtractiveLAD, Dryft, and Lights Out Asia (that even the artwork is reminiscent of n5MD is explained by the fact it's handled by n5MD overseer Mike Cadoo aka Dryft). Queue isn't a formal follow-up to Tanner Volz's debut Anklebiter release I Will Wait, however, but instead a remix project of the album's material featuring renditions by nine guests supplemented with two new Anklebiter pieces. If Tympanik Audio tends to emphasize the dark electronic end of the spectrum more than n5MD, the Anklebiter collection nevertheless emphasizes the degree to which both labels share an affinity for emotionally charged electronic music. That's clearly the case in Keef Baker's “Frigid,” Jatun's “Absolution Is A Plushtoy,” and Lights Out Asia's “Nothing Will Happen Tomorrow,” which become towering epics in the remixers' hands, and in Anklebiter's own tracks, with “By Design” a veritable maelstrom of seething synths, epic melodies, and throbbing beats and “OTT” just as forceful.
Elsewhere, Boy Is Fiction's “I Will Wait” is elevated by the crisp downtempo groove with which Melbourne-based Alex Gillett anchors the song's keyboard melodies and billowing synthetic atmospheres, Access To Arasaka largely presents “University” as a brooding and atmospheric dystopia, and Dirk Geiger's “I Will Wait” throbs with serious intent. Irulan's “Accessible” flirts with shoegaze and synth-pop in its vocal-based treatment, while vocals course dreamily through Lights Out Asia's “Nothing Will Happen Tomorrow” in classic n5MD style. All well and good, but the album's most splendid moment arrives courtesy of SubtractiveLAD, whose “Frigid” is a thing of beauty. As he's done so often on his own n5MD releases, Stephen Hummel powerfully brings out the music's most emotionally affecting dimension, in this case by getting maximum mileage from a lovely chord progression, synthetic strings, and piano-based melodic line. Hummel has a knack for making his music stand out from the crowd, and he does so again by zeroing in on the sweeter rather than aggressive side of the Anklebiter piece.