Bochum Welt R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Body)

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Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: post-techno, post-rave
Others: Autechre, Bola, Brian Eno, AFX

The Richard D. James-overseen Rephlex label has always been rather intimidating. Since its 1991 inception, it has hosted the better part of such deep catalogues as Bogdan Raczynski, DMX Crew, Cylob, Luke Vibert, µ-Ziq, and, of course, pretty much everything Aphex Twin hasn't handed over to Warp, and none of it conforms to any discernible pattern. As such, the odd name here and there can end up falling through the cracks. R.O.B. is Bochum Welt's best shot yet at gaining the recognition he deserves.

Milan producer Gianluigi Di Costanzo has been a staple of quality Rephlex vinyl for over a decade. Major media has given him props, as he has worked closely with the likes of Steven Spielberg, David Bowie, and a host of corporations to develop commercial and film-suitable pieces. Yet, for whatever reason, his solo production has yet to crack consciousness enough to end up in the same echelon as his label's founder. In fact, most of his original pressings are now long out-of-print and fetching upwards of hundreds on eBay and Amazon. R.O.B. hedges its bets by containing one disc of new material and fresh mixes of old stock, while another compiling everything Rephlex has ever released from Gianluigi (minus the Scharlach Eingang EP, which was itself a reissue of earlier Italy-exclusive tracks). Thus, it fabulously caters to both the familiar, who understandably aren't willing to pay gross import charges, and the eagerly unacquainted.

At a glance, disc one seems slightly unbalanced. It has quite a bit less tracks than disc two, and several of them are reimaginings of previous work. The fact that Bochum Welt is essentially releasing a new album in the same package as a career retrospective suggests a lack of confidence in his latest noodlings, while the lopsided tracklisting could arguably point to a lack of effort. However, most pop acts these days try to goad completists into purchasing their greatest hits merely for an exclusive track or two. Here, Bochum gives you what objectively comes out to as a proper full-length, sweetening the deal with a bonus CD collecting his rare first original single, EP, and LP for the same label. That makes R.O.B. pert near definitive.

Effort aside, placing decade old bits and pieces next to new output can have the undesirable side effect of nostalgia, especially noticeable in electronic music. As production techniques increasingly become all digital, the warm analog sounds of incompatible machinery takes on its own mystic charm. There is just something about Boards Of Canada's Twoism that's nowhere to be found on The Campfire Headphase, despite their obvious growth as musicians and songwriters. Likewise, while Bochum Welt's audio engineering skills have clearly improved over time, the quaint simplicity and hum of disc two makes it seem otherworldly.

"Paph" from 1996's Module 2 still hits the right buttons with an almost tribal acid-house beat, hissing percussion, and an ethereal lead. It all goes underwater for a few seconds, but re-emerges as an upbeat synth line that eventually follows itself back to its charging opening riff. Though the production may be a little rough by today's standards, I can't find anything on disc one that inarguably exceeds the bubbly excitement of "Paph." He was simply that advanced. "Lunakhod," also from Module 2, is another ageless wonder. Its static click punctuated bass is reminiscent of Pole's smoggy ambiance, over which layers of stringy pads lend its progression. Similarly, the title track from 1997's Desktop Robotics gets a lot of play out of a crunchy beat and blip tones, while the ghostly moan of "Leafs Brought By The Wind" proves he's not dependent on bass for expression. The latter is pure tone without the drone, and a wonderfully peaceful example of minimal ambient.

Conversely, the title track "Robot Operating Buddy" from disc one takes the beat from "Desktop Robotics" and speeds it up, tacking on some technical tweaks and generally creating a fuller track. I'm sure Gianluigi still has much of his original gear, yet it's still hard to walk away definitively thinking one version is better than the other. It's the same basic song for two different crowds. Perhaps that was his goal all along. Playing the entire album start to finish, it's next to impossible to guess the age of any one track, unless you're already familiar with his work. His subtlety is his greatest strength and weakness, but it shouldn't be held against him. R.O.B. deserves to be remembered as one of the most essential after-party albums.

{1. Extra Life
2. Avtomaticesk (Edit)
3. Mechanique (Version)
4. Paph
5. Asteroids Over Berlin
6. Puck
7. Lunakhod
8. B2
9. Desktop Robotics
10. Leafs Brought By The Wind
11. Asteroids Over Berlin (Live)
12. Board 2
13. Hug Me Tight
14. Greenwich
15. Fortune Green
16. Radiopropulsive
17. That's Mutuality
18. Feelings On A Screen
19. Arnos Park
20. La Nuit (Slumber Mix)

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