Noumen – Obscurium

4 out of 5

Label: Central Processing Unit

Produced by: Andriy Vezdenko

Yeah, this is why it pays to be obsessed with the Central Processing Unit label: not just because of the many, many all-stars in its roster which remind of our IDM / glitch / acid heroes like Aphex Twin and Autechre and the like, but because of the surprising amount of breakout albums which remix that vibe into something wholly new, and surprising.

Noumen’s Obscurium emerges from a haze of ambience and feedback into jittery breakbeats, nibbing effects from the playbooks of the aforementioned artists and others, but not in mimicry: alien effects and maybe some distorted vocals phase their way through, combining for an insanely unpredictable and broken bit of glitch that is nonetheless goddamned ear-blissing pleasing and mind-blowing in that way it was when you first heard Richard D. James go nuts, or maybe Bogdan Raczynski be Bogan Raczynski. But again, namedropping only takes this so far – Noumen bends over backwards in ways that take tracks down unexpected and yet rhythmic avenues, occasionally creepy (as on the opener) but then also grimey, and chill. The names of each track points to a “feeling” they could be said to pursue, but that’s open to interpretation; more important is that the album is cohesive thanks to a backbone of experimentation, and deconstruction, with the artist remembering to stick to beats and grooves so we aren’t just lost in cut-ups or wandering paths.

Obscurium adheres to this wonderfully almost all the way through… until its D-side. By then, Noumen, perhaps figuring he’s earned our attentions, goes for a ten-minute, structureless stroll between ‘Fading’ and ‘Slick AC,’ and while each of these has their merits and points of interest – ‘Fading’ is admittedly rather awesomely minimalist – there are also plenty of stopping points that the album pushes past. Some resequencing could have resolved this, as brilliant, and varied moments abound on the album, from the full-on Rephlex buzz of ‘Hydra’ to the relatively lowkey vibe of longer, steadier tracks like ‘Spleen Tear’ and the concluding ‘Flow Through the Surface’ (which is a nice, structured, danceable palate cleanser after the preceding pieces) – in this sense, that D-side hiccup is totally a minor flaw, but I can’t help but wish that the album was wholly entrancing from end to end.