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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Skee Mask - Compro Music Album Reviews

Skee Mask - Compro Music Album Reviews

The German producer Brian Müller has a preternatural feel for the dancefloor, and his latest is a shining hybrid of breakbeats and ambient textures, making it one of the best dance records of the year.

Revivalism and dance culture aren’t a great match. Obsessing over the past feels misguided in a scene whose stated mission has always been to shake loose the future. In the early ’10s, a variety of producers started releasing music that toyed with the conventions of old-school drum and bass. Some tracks felt inspired, while others skimmed the surface of the sound without adding much. For a young talent like Munich producer Bryan Müller (aka Skee Mask), a challenge emerged: how to engage with the beloved, vast ’90s dance canon of hardcore music, Amen breaks, and ambient techno, without resorting to facile nostalgia.

The best Skee Mask songs do exactly this; they don’t sound quite like anything else. Müller’s use of both analog and digital tools creates a raw hybrid energy. Throughout his latest album Compro, drums land with a spongy bounce, while pads exude rich notes of fungal modular squelch. The combination lends much of the album an organic texture that, in the vein of classic Aphex Twin records, hints at technology from an ancient future—one born of a great cataclysm of the past.

Compro is Müller’s second full-length for Ilian Tape, the German label which has become known for using techno as a jumping off point for incorporating breakbeats. After several releases under the name SCNTST, Müller put out his debut Serum EP on Ilian Tape in 2014 under a new, secret moniker: Skee Mask. Ostensibly a dub techno release, it incorporated slivers of breakbeat, which Müller would expand on for Skee Mask’s excellent 2016 debut LP, Shred. By then, breakbeat mania had moved into some of techno’s most rarefied spaces, and Shred captured intersecting trends, becoming one of the year’s breakout releases for clubgoers of many stripes.

Compro enriches, refines, and expands upon his entire aesthetic which he’s been honing since he started producing as a 17-year-old. Müller has a rare gift for ambient interludes, which can often feel gratuitous on full-length dance records. The album’s calmer moments are important to its whole biochemistry: “Cerroverb,” for instance, starts with an inhalation, a drawn breath gathering oxygen to burn. Wet flapping noises evoke something scaly hooked up to electrodes in a vat, a biological power source, like the fleshy chimeras in Cronenberg’s eXistenz. Tesla coils and solar arrays hum somewhere out of sight. Guitar notes reverberate in the air like sparking wires pulled taut by a pneumatic winch. “Cerroverb” is the sound of Skee Mask charging up.

Perhaps Compro’s most revealing predecessor is The Self Evident Truth of an Intuitive Mind, a bug-eyed 1995 classic by hardcore hero Marc Royal under his alias T.Power that embedded labyrinthine breakbeats within wooly ambient passages and acid freakouts. Nowhere is this more obvious than the three-song stretch at the album’s center. “Soundboy Ext.” takes off like a windsurfer with a solar sail. Towering pads evoke interstellar winds rendered with warm analog grain, as if the Hubble Telescope shot footage on 35-millimeter. The drums don’t feel like they’re driving the track. Instead, they seem to be sliding off the pads, carving down the crest of a particle wave. The break twists through precise filters and shifts, course adjustments by an onboard AI charting a trajectory between star systems.

If “Soundboy Ext.” endorses graceful high-tech optimism, “Dial 274,” paints a thrilling narrative about the opposite. It starts with an alarm, then a Reese bassline starts growling. Lasers squeal, metal shrieks. Containment has failed: Radioactive goo leaks from the reactor. Only the breakbeat maintains its loop, spinning off like a rogue washing machine. Scything jets of sound capture slow-motion infrastructural collapse. The Reese hiccups and spits liquid metal. Then the atonal magma is shot through with jeweled synth shafts, patches of sky seen through a caved-in roof.

You finally roll to a stop and open your eyes. The camera pans up: “VLI” is a weightless drone shot, surveying acres of devastation. It’s just a pulsing tone and a few incandescent pads. But it captures something essential about post-apocalyptic solitude. A cloud of dust hangs over the rubble, sliced into shards by forest light. It’s the logical conclusion to a suite of music that perhaps mirrors Müller’s prediction for the next few centuries of life on Earth: technological confidence leads to a staggering wipe-out, and finally, post-human peace.

Compro continues with a few tunes that feel like an homage to some beloved influences including vintage Blue Note anthems like Peshay’s “Sunrise” and Soichi Terada’s 1996 odyssey “Mt. Ambient vs Spasm.” They’re beautiful, if a bit familiar. But then Skee Mask displays something unexpected, especially for a Bavarian techno act: a sense of humor. “Muk FM” opens with a sample of a stentorian radio announcer discussing Bruno Mars and Lady Gaga in German. The sample warps and fades, giving way to an electro onslaught. It’s a sharp riff about how silly and beautiful our pop culture moment might look to a far-future trash heap sifter, like Wall-E dancing to his VHS of Hello, Dolly!

Despite Compro’s wild tonal variations and interludes, Müller never takes his eyes off the incentives and demands of club music. This record’s emotional valence—between collapse and grace, unity and emptiness—will resonate with anyone who's ever caught an unexpected sunrise in a concrete room. Yet his depth and clarity of vision resists formula. Making music “to get lost in” is overrated—Compro takes you somewhere new.

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