3 out of 5
Label: Local Action
Produced by: 96 Back
Logically following on some of the styles pursued on his previous two Local Action releases, 96 Back’s completion to his trilogy of 2021 releases chases down, in full, a softer side to his IDM that was first explored on Excitable, Girl, and then combined with a more modern, sultry sensibility on some cuts from the subsequent LA works. But these moments were always quite buffered with the IDM playfulness the artist had displayed from the start.
With Love Letters, Nine Through Six, 96 Back has almost completely dispensed with the direct Rephlex influences that were generally evident, furthering that modernization of his sound, and pushing it into an even more open, organic vibe. It’s an emotional album, but at the same time, I don’t know that it’s very immersive; while I think the goal here was to channel a very raw, loose sound – held together by splashes of tight percussion and expert, precise noodling – the result ends up feeling a bit too scattershot and sketch-like to fully land. Some of the experiments with bringing in even more vocals, and erring toward what’s almost a radio-single sound – such as 96’s ethereal treatment of his own singing on the slinky ‘9 to Find 6’ – work, because they’re presented very cohesively, but sometimes it feels like a vibe is being pursued over a “song” (something that cropped up on Excitable, also), leading to ideas feeling incomplete, and the album having a rather herky-jerky flow.
This approach is evident even from the start, with opener Felzin giving us an excellent ambient build-up, feeling like it’s leading towards a break… but then 96 perhaps purposefully denying us that in its final section, breaking away from any structure for some random-ish, stop-and-start synths. That encapsulates the album: it’ll get into a run for a couple of tracks and then somewhat change gears.
I definitely admire that 96 is willing to go against what might be expected of him, and, again, traces of the work here can definitely be found across previous releases. But this is another instance of when form seems to precede function for the artist, which renders a lot of this material as really interesting – the compositions are dense, and definitely not lacking solid beats – but not as directly memorable and in need of relistens as on previous releases.