The rogue element in Köln-based producer Jens Massel a.k.a. Senking’s dubtronic mix is his deep background working on the fringes of post-Oval sound design: Trial, his turn-of-the-century Raster-Noton debut, exhibited a fine-tuned sense of dread even without the sort of ominous low-end riffage that underpins the bulk of Capsize Recovery. The passage from Ping Thaw (2001) to his last album, Pong (2010) covers a body of work immersed in sub-bass, an eldritch, droned-out refiguring of dub techno sunk to an abyssal point of abstraction. Tracks like “Come In,” from 2007’s List, and “Bateau”, from 2001’s Silencer, ooze a typical malevolence, clicks-and-bass glistening in the murky zone where texture and melody intermingles:
This is perilously close to what Matthew Ingram once memorably criticized as “audio trickle”: the absent-minded combing of granular, percussive textures within the operational confines of a digital workstation for the sake of absent-mindedly combing granular, percussive textures within the operational confines of a digital workstation. Although it may be easy to argue that Massel (who, Raster-Noton claim, makes music exclusively without computers) is informed by — and forms part of — a more storied Mitteleuropean tradition of dubwise glitchtronica1, there is a narcotic sense of stasis in much of his work from this period, a dream-image of cyclical processes looping in the void like artware pieces sealed off from their context beyond the gallery of the mind’s eye.
More recent Senking productions, such as “Black Ice” (2011) and “The Dance Hall Walk” (2012), suggest that that abiding feeling of uneasy, bass-swaddled calm has broken at point of impact with dubstep’s ponderous force:
What’s interesting here is the impression of scale: hitherto, Massels has worked predominantly in miniature, crafting intricate sound-sculptures from scuttling drum-steps and the throb of tightly-finessed low-frequency tones; by contrast, Capsize Recovery simply sounds colossal. The palette remains minimal, but the brush is broader and the canvas larger: reverb accentuates the contours of each stroke, tracing the drip of detail from the dip of each decaying squelch and growl. On album highlight “Shading,” spectral wisps of high-octave melody-traces bleed through the mix, their eerie sustain muffled beneath rivet-busting kicks. A similar effect occurs throughout the title track, where tone clusters bubble beneath the polar glare of a gently oscillating synth wash, while sawtooth-frilled blocks of sound fall away like the shards of a vast thawing iceberg.
With its mix of doomy atmospherics, synthetic textures, and palsied breakbeats, Capsize Recovery resembles nothing so much as an undiscovered soundtrack to an improbably bleak Gundam, one where a disillusioned young warrior in a futuristic fictional galaxy uses his giant amphibious robot suit to just try and stay out of everybody’s way. There are some more general landmarks here, as well: some listeners might find it too easy to hear echoes of the sort of churning, post-industrial clockwork grooves that Autechre released throughout 1995, and the fraught Carpenter pastiche of Ennio Morricone’s frosty, electro-pulsed soundtrack to The Thing is an obvious touchstone2. There are also shades of gloom titans Bohren und der Club of Gore, some of whose dismal ambience Capsize Recovery manages to capture in ice. The outcome is something close to an IDM nerd’s dream of bass: brutal, clinical, slightly noisy — but emphatically reptilian, ectothermic, and Other. Don’t pay too much attention to that title: for the most part, this is an album that rarely comes up for air.
1. Think: Vladislav Delay; Stefan Betke’s series of albums under the Pole alias; Uwe Schmidt’s work as Atom™; Robert Henke’s solo material; Jan Jelinek’s luscious, jazz-tinged ambi-dub; various Wolfgang Voigt/Mike Ink/Gas projects; even Andrew Pekler’s early stuff on ~scape.
2. Lest ye forget: Morricone’s original score was notoriously rejected by Carpenter for not being sufficiently “Carpenter-like.”