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Mikron - Severance Music Album Reviews

On their second album, the Irish duo Mikron—brothers Michael and Ciaran Corcoran—make promising strides toward defining their own patch of techno turf.

Contemporary techno is rarely about anything external to the music. Not always, but frequently, a lot of techno is mostly just about techno itself. That’s especially evident in acts on the Sheffield label Central Processing Unit, who, since 2012, has devoted itself to the sounds its city helped make famous in the 1990s, fusing the clean-lined 808s of classic electro (an American import) with the evocative sheen of mid-1990s Warp Records at its most melancholy. The label’s roster has a compelling take on the style: When they’re good, CPU releases might be mistaken for their inspirations from decades earlier. When they’re great, they sound simply timeless. But they almost always stake out a position within familiar terrain. The CPU M.O. entails “pushing at the edges without reinventing the wheel,” as Resident Advisor’s Andrew Ryce once put it.

On their second album, the Irish duo Mikron—brothers Michael and Ciaran Corcoran—make promising strides toward defining their own patch of turf. Their debut album, 2016’s Warning Score, had plenty to recommend it, particularly its fusion of diamond-tipped drum programming with aquamarine synths. But at the end of the day, it was essentially a collection of genre exercises. “Black Sands” paid homage to Drexciya, electro’s avant-garde standard-bearers; “Re-Entry” lost itself in Detroit techno’s buoyant harmonies; the title track indulged in whip-cracking acid roleplay. Severance moves into a more distinctive territory.

The tempos are largely slower and their sound design, already one of their strengths, has become even more refined. Shrouded in bassy shadow, their synthesizers throw off the glow of streetlights in heavy fog; their drum programming flashes like fish in deep water. Severance is even more varied than Warning Score: “Ghost Node,” a highlight, channels new-wave synths into sleek, uptempo techno, while the opening “Embers” is melancholy, atmospheric acid. Mostly, they shuttle between slow-motion electro and ethereal hip-hop, using those spacious rhythmic frameworks to showcase the richness of their sounds. On “Aldergrove,” another highlight, the synths almost sound like a chunk of shoegaze that’s been broken off, sanded smooth, and polished to a dull sheen.

Mikron still aren’t putting any wheelwrights out of business. Echoes of their predecessors are easy to spot: Plastikman’s nimble hi-hats and wriggly 303 run through the opener; the echo-soaked “Imora” taps into the gothic strains of dub techno pioneered by Andy Stott and the Modern Love label; “Locus Reave,” the most forceful cut here, sounds like a more subdued answer to Lanark Artefax’s hi-def electro delirium. And Boards of Canada’s influence can be felt every time a stumbling breakbeat kicks up a lavender-scented cloud of dust.

But one track, in particular, stands out as an example of Mikron’s own developing voice. “Sunken Paths” wasn’t made in a vacuum; you could almost imagine it as a tug of war between Burial and Boards of Canada. But the way they wield its slippery, garage-inspired rhythm and glowing synths is so deft, those comparisons mostly fall by the wayside. It’s not a song about a genre or a style; it’s not about anything except the feeling that wells up while it’s playing. And that feeling, a hard-to-define mixture of melancholy and rapture, hits hard—and leaves a lingering mark.

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