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Shinichi Atobe - Heat Music Album Reviews

An unannounced album from the Japanese producer sounds as mysterious as ever, but his once chilly techno has warmed and deepened, and a communal, even celebratory spirit has come to the fore.

The price to send a package via airmail from Saitama, Japan to Manchester, England is a little over $20. Not too long ago, a CD made this 5,853-mile journey, arriving at the offices of DDS records, the label run by the electronic duo Demdike Stare. The disc contained Japanese producer Shinichi Atobe’s fourth LP, Heat. There was no other info attached: no artist statement or supplemental details, just an hour of new music from one of dance music’s most reclusive producers. Or that’s how the story goes. But whatever route the seven tracks took to arrive at DDS’ doorstep, one thing rings true: The cost of postage pays for itself. Atobe’s latest is a priceless addition to a formidable catalog, and it stands apart from anything he’s done before.

Up until four years ago, Atobe had exactly one release to his name—2001’s Ship-Scope, an EP of ambient techno so evocative it could elicit tears from a sympathetic listener. Then in 2014, Demdike Stare followed a tip from Atobe’s previous label, the Berlin dub-techno pioneers Chain Reaction, and tracked him down. Since then, Atobe has entrusted DDS to release both new and archival music from his collection, which now includes three albums of material, each building upon the dreamy logic of Ship-Scope. Cold and swirling and sad, Atobe’s recent releases have been every bit as enigmatic and alluring as their creator.

But Heat does not sound like any of this previous work—it’s a house record first and foremost. Heady and soulful and smooth in a way that harks back to Mr. Fingers, Heat is an open book compared to the black boxes of Atobe’s past albums. Its thesis is clear from the moment a humid synthesizer melody introduces the opener, “So Good So Right”: This is a record, as its title suggests, primarily interested in the warmer end of dance music. These are tracks to make you sweat. It’s a new climate for Atobe’s music, downright tropical. The plush hand drums and purring bassline on “Heat 1” swing and sway like palm fronds moving with the ocean breeze; the slippery and bubbly synths on “Heat 2” move like bodies writhing on a waterbed.

Even as Atobe paints with brighter, more vivid hues on Heat, a blueness works at the lower registers of the album. There is a rich, emotional world here, one where melancholy freely intermixes with joy: On “Heat 4,” hi-hats chirp and crawl around hissing ghostly ambient noise like crickets on a foggy night, but right beneath the creepiness is the softest, supplest low end.

Working in this hot and heavy mode, Atobe transports all the exacting rigor and creativity of his techno to the creation of house melodies whittled to dancefloor perfection. Patience is what connects the soulfuness of Heat to Atobe’s back catalog. But in the beatific piano chords and the crispy kick drums, it’s easy to hear the communal spirit of Heat: These are songs oriented towards public consumption, not private listening. That change in setting and intent might shock anyone who has been following Atobe’s records over the years. But when Heat locks into its groove, it taps into the contemplative spirit that powers all of his music. Atobe’s work has always been about the rewards that come with careful, repeated listens. The beauty of Heat is the way it allows its listeners to experience those gifts together.

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