3 out of 5
Label: Central Processing Unit
Produced by: Evan Majumdar-Swift, Samir Alikhanizadeh
I had to give this a few go-rounds to make sure my high expectations weren’t cursing me out of a different experience, but, unfortunately, 96 Back’s debut album, though certainly expanding on the fun, energetic Rephlex-enveloped braindance of the preceding EP, buries its hooks pretty deep in the mix, favoring an interesting – but perhaps not the most compelling – “story” and sequencing.
Credit where it’s certainly due, though – ‘Excitable, Girl’ is packed with well composed techno, especially on the album’s C- and D-sides, when 96 starts getting down to business. But even preceding that, the work is noteworthy: crisp, modern production; lots of careful percussion and ambience layers on top of a varied set of beats; and I do think there’s something of a narrative at work, which I especially appreciate. However, it seems to have encouraged form over function, here, as the album opens with a couple of jams that are fairly simplistic in terms of what 96 Back previously displayed, and in the case of the 7+ minute Matryoshka, a little repetitive. The more delicate tons and restrained patter that are employed on tracks like Ghzel Tea and Lezi are, again, enjoyable – very clean, squiggles of nuance – there just seems to be a purposeful restraint on the album’s opening half. The opening, ambient track – which is more of an intro – is called ‘I’m Lost,’ and then we have track titles that could / might be linked to youth, or memories; ‘Matryoshka’ and ‘Excited, Boy’ are clubby and bubbly, respectively, and the followups are calmer, with emotive synths. Each song has moments where things suddenly come together, and the depths of which we know the artist is capable start to appear, but they’re still held back.
Then, suddenly, the C-side: Vennsate and onward are all made IDM trips, on par with anything on Provisional Electronics. The synths sound different, too; more modern, versus a somewhat vintage sound on the A- and B-sides. And the outro, ‘Vennsate (reprise)’ is this hauntingly contemplative piano bit – something with more shape and emotion and definition than the open-ended ambience with which we began. I’m not positive what to read in to the gender swap of the title track’s name – A-side’s ‘Excited, Boy’ versus D-side’s ‘Excitable, Girl’ – except the usage of past tense and then a word which suggests potential seems suggestive of how the album, overall, grows into its mature sounds.
For me, though, the journey to get to those sounds is fun, and conceptually intriguing, but nowhere near as immersive or grabbing as where the album ends up.