John T. Gast Excerpts

[Planet Mu; 2015]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: techno, house, ambient
Others: Atom Heart, Richard Sides, Lee Gamble

For all the expectation and conjecture surrounding John T. Gast’s debut full-length, Excerpts remains somewhat of a cryptic release. Sure, it flirts with the lo-fi graze of Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland’s Black Is Beautiful — on which Gast was credited as a producer — but it’s also a multifaceted exploration of the complex musical frontiers instigated by Black Is Beautiful. Whatever interpretation might be construed, the flavor on Excerpts is kept thick and pungent, as the listener bears witness to muffled conversations, dizzying techno, and the dankest slices of ambient spoilage. But despite the mystifying veil that has been draped over the album, it’s an insightful journey that has our West Country enigma plotting past projections of the future with mesmerizing ease.

As a reflection staring back at the benchmark techno albums that used their instrumentation to make presumptuous quips about the future — I’m thinking of Atom Heart’s Morphogenetic Fields and even Autechre’s Chiastic Slide here — Excerpts borrows from these aesthetics and gives them a curmudgeonly twist with the full benefit of hindsight. Of course synthesizers, drum machines, and Logic redefined the boundaries of music, but the way that Uwe Schmidt and co. deployed their various tools made it seem as if they were making statements about the future through their own production. Gast is revisiting these aesthetics and elaborating on their form while also exploring the margins of techno and encircling the styles connected to it.

This approach sounds the most appealing on the album’s murkier tracks, where the staggered, introductory blur of “Shanti-ites” invokes a wholly gripping pessimism, an indication of the festering gloom that lies ahead. Indeed, the closing tracks on Excerpts are as equally bleak as the opening ones. But despite the mood conjured here, it’s the compositional nature of each piece that has the most impact. Take “White Noise (reprise),” which is a staunch and brooding affair, softly propelled by foreboding strings; or the concluding drift of “Torch,” a track beautifully punctuated by an isolated melody amidst a static, dronal tide. These moments point to a more skeptical and frustrated disposition surrounding promises of the past — those beloved techno declarations of the 90s — as opposed to a celebration of them, and that suits the overarching feel of this album well.

Even when Excerpts switches pace and Gast launches into his bludgeoning take on house music, it’s forced and congested. As hard-hitting as a number like “Congress” is, there’s still a touch of sorrow and even despondency in the cold tones and metallic beat that carry the track along. Compare that to the trip-hop inflections of “White Noise/Dys,” which is worlds apart in style and approach but still upholds the sinister angle that makes this album so alluring. These are key components within the historical references that Gast shadows, and even when you wallow in a beat-less dirge that advances that notion of pessimism, it feels like an essential ingredient to the artist’s well-informed commentary.

So where does that fit within the profile of a musician steering clear of the limelight and dropping monikers at a rate similar to those of his past collaborators? Henry Moan and S. Bronze may well lead to speculation about who this artist is and where he might appear next, but it’s the quality of the music that matters most. As opposed to picking apart clues in the typical randomness of Gast’s website or looking for hints in the press release, it’s worthwhile to fully indulge this exceptional producer in the all-encompassing bombardment of his actual musicianship, because even with all its negative connotations, Excerpts already offers more than we need to know about John T. Gast.

Links: John T. Gast - Planet Mu

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