96 Back – 9696 Dream

4 out of 5

Label: Local Action

Produced by: Rob Gordon (mastered by)

It’s been fascinating listening to 96 Back’s – Evan Majumdar-Swift – journey over just a few short years. Sticking with the Sheffield electro-influenced Central Processing Unit label for his first few releases, 96 jumped to some more club-geared imprints (Happy Skull; Hypercolour) for a couple, before landing at Local Action for a run of work in 2021 / -22. While I don’t mean to construct a super linear narrative here – Evan dropped another EP on CPU in 2022, after all – these general moves have aligned with general shifts in his approach, with 9696 Dream the first step towards a less-identifiable blend of IDM sprinkles, ambience, and pop. The album after this one, Love Letters, Nine Through Six, took me some time to feel out, as it seemed a more forced effort on the artist’s behalf to expand his horizons. This album, though, has the emotional growth of that release but is approached much more organically, almost as though the sound – hazy, warm synths that get agitated into wonderfully slick grooves – surprised the composer, and then he just went with it. As such, 9696 Dream flows gorgeously, knitting the playful percussive grooves of the CPU stuff to a wash of smoother, fuzzier sounds, the latter being the dominant tone of any given track, before it reveals an edge, or a beat.

Bookended by nigh-beatless, reverbed layers, the first half of the album favors more open-ended approaches – parting the haze for clipped electro – the back half shifts towards more direct beats, though still with that general haziness that makes the album feel like one whole experience. On occasion, 96 shorts himself a bit: whether due to trying to stay within a cassette runtime, or just not having confidence in letting some things play out, a few tracks drop a lot sooner than they could. Thankfully, this isn’t without consideration for the overall flow, which is maintained; we’re allowed to stay hooked to the dream.

A really promising release at the time, and perhaps even moreso now, being able to look back and see its place in what’s already an impressive set of albums / EPs from a young artist.