Roel Funcken – Hexavalent EP

4 out of 5

Label: Analogical Force

Produced by: Roel Funcken

For many of the artists on Analogical Force to which I’ve been newly introduced, I know I’m guilty of making my compliments backhanded: that they do a spot-on impression of so-and-so; or that they find a fresh way to combine element X and Y from other name artists. Neither of these are meant to denigrate skill, as even mimicry of certain stalwarts – writing songs that sound as though they could’ve been from whichever person – is damned difficult. But still, it’s rare that I’ve said an AF new-to-me artist truly defines their own sound.

Part of that is surely bias – I tend to view AF as trying hard to carve out their own identity in a landscape of cool, IDM-dedicated labels – and part of that is likely just based on whatever you hear first. Maybe some of it is true. But enough of that: I’ve never heard anything like Roel Funcken before.

Accounting for my American pronunciation of that surname, “funk” is definitely a fitting touchpoint here, with killer grooves slicing across these five tracks, but that’s really only a place to start. Icy washes and house beats drop in; 80s synths and effects giving it an old school club vibe, but then you have percussive mash-ups zipping all around the place, while 90s Rephlex-era IDM peeks through another synth layer. And maybe on top of that, Funcken also fucking with you, breaking at odd but fitting points, getting to the edge of silly or grimey or something very genre-y, and then peeling back.

The snare on opener Tychon Donodus is impossibly serpentine; if not for these weird drops in the beat – like to the point where it seems glitched – the track would be perfect. While there are twists and turns elsewhere, no other tracks have such a disruptive hiccup; it’s possibly a gauntlet thrown down at the start, proving Funcken can break things and still keep it going. Followup Milagro Beanfield, for example, goes slightly minimalist and acidic with its electronica, with a wild rave-up layer sneaking in as it goes along, only for Roel to keep chopping it up and turning it in to a continually more tweaked version of itself. Zenus Aphalon is the closest to a recognizably chill version of IDM, something Ovuca might touch, but it’s equally robotic and hard-edged, rather non-Ovuca traits, again broken down and built back up in bits and pieces.

And then kinda forget what I said about funk once we get to Cobb Vant, an utterly gorgeous attack on harpsichord-esque keys that morphs into this haunting bit of clipped percussion and ambience.

Closer Hexavalent Chromium goes heavy, and is perhaps the EP’s only other slip-up, just because it’s not quite a closing track. It’s nearly dub-step beat and playful percussion are like classic Amon Tobin, filtered through Funcken’s evasive genre-hopping. But it’s building toward something… and then leaves us on the doorstep, rather shorted for a conclusion. Of course, that also leaves us wanting more, and seeing as how I’m now scouring Funcken’s remaining catalogue, I guess, on the other hand, the tactic has absolutely worked.