Deepchord is a name which, when uttered, conjures revered nodding and appreciative muttering amongst the most minimalist of minimal techno fans. Yet, outside of this inner circle of a not-so-huge-in-itself outer circle, it’s doubtful whether the same utterance would warrant even the twitching of an eyebrow. It should. Originally composed of Rod Modell and Mike Schommer, but now the solo project of Modell, Deepchord makes the dubbiest, softest, most atmospheric techno music you are ever likely to come across. Indeed, it’s the sort of music which defies categorisation, one of those times where you sort of have to say: “Well, it’s techno, but…”, and then launch into a long list of qualifiers to try and convey what it sounds like. In both of ‘it’s’ incarnations, Deepchord have released 8 albums on labels like Modern Love and Soma, as well as a slew of singles on their own imprint. And now, Modell is back with a new offering, the ‘Lanterns’ LP, which is to be released on Astral Industries on the 22nd of May. But before we move onto the music, let’s take a moment to admire the full release.
The reason being that this isn’t just any LP. It’s composed of 4 tracks, each of which is around 15 minutes long. This is not so unusual for dub techno, where tracks can sometimes stretch to 20 minutes and beyond, but the way in which it is being released is truly special. ‘Lanterns’ is being pressed on 2 crystallised 180g 12” vinyl: one of which will be covered with flickers of red, and one of which will be covered in flickers of blue. This corresponds to the track names: the two tunes that are called Red Lantern parts 1 & 2 and 3 (confusingly, ‘Red Lantern Parts 1 & 2’ refers to one tune) will be pressed on the red vinyl and Blue Lantern Parts 1 and 2 will be pressed on the blue one. Delicious. But that’s not all; the artwork is hand drawn on a gatefold sleeve, and the release includes a ‘bonus’ poster, which apparently has a ‘high quality matte finish’ (whatever that means). In other words, then, this isn’t just music, but it’s art, both in terms of the 2 vinyl and the packaging they are enclosed in. It’s a vinyl collector’s wet dream.
Sadly however, the price for this mouthwatering duo of wax is considerable. For a normal 2×12” you would normally be expected to pay around £12 – at most £15 or so – but this is £28.99, and I expect that you’ll pay a couple of quid extra on top for postage and packaging too. So, that’s £30 for two records, and whichever way you look at it that’s a lot. In their defence, Astral have come out and emphasised the expensive process they went through putting this into press – which is understandable considering the overall product they have assembled – and they’ve also pointed out that the online record stores have upped the price significantly to increase the percentage of profit that will be made from each sale. This is rather sad but not unexpected. Similarly, I paid £45 for a solitary 12” picture disc of the Final Fantasy VII soundtrack a while ago (don’t ask), and the reason it cost so much is simply because records like this are (collectors) items that people will buy ‘at any cost’. ‘Lanterns’ will sell out whether the price is £14 or £28, especially as there’s been a ‘strictly no repress’ announcement already. So why not throw a few extra quid on the price? There are reasons why not, of course, but now’s not the time. Let’s focus on the music itself, not the packaging or the price. Because all that waffling about the price or the artwork does is draw attention away from the music itself. And, in this case, that would be an absolute crime.
This is quite simply the best music I have heard this year. I know that, typically, most people’s favourite release of the year changes every few days, if not minutes, but I mean it. ‘Lanterns’ is absolutely staggering. Over the short time I’ve been writing, I’ve used many similes and metaphors to describe music, some of them complimentary and some of them derogatory. I have compared a snare to Stephen Hawking’s penis and once described an album as like booking a holiday to Chernobyl because the trip to The Maldives you wanted has sold out. In other words, I’ve scraped the barrel of analogies to the very bottom and kept on going. But despite this, I’m genuinely struggling to find the words to sum up how good ‘Lanterns’ is. I simply don’t possess the vocabulary.
Doesn’t mean I’m not going to try though. This LP is composed of 4 tracks, all of which fall under the broad category of dub techno. They are patient, hypnotic things, which all use a slow, deep, reverb heavy kick drum as a focal point around which all other elements of the track circulate. These elements are typically aquatic, atmospheric, and ambient in nature: in fact it’s like all of the tracks are being transmitted to you underwater like a whale song; there is an all-enveloping analogue feel that makes it sound rough To run through some inadequate similes, it’s like lying in a sea of calm, a sea of tranquillity (not the one on the Moon though), while Nature massages you with her intricate, warm tentacles. It’s like being able to breath underwater, and lying on a shallow bed of sand looking up at the dancing water refracting the sun’s rays. It’s like discovering a cove of pristine turquoise water, undiscovered by man and completely mellifluous, and swimming out into the centre to float around on the serene, gentle currents. If Gaia made an LP, this is what it would sound like.
There are soft spacey echoes, distant glimmers and tremors, droplets of dew splashing into slow-running streams, and if you listen closely enough you hear all of the elements that make up each sound interacting perfectly with one another. This is an LP that is both more than the sum of its parts and irreducible to any or all of these parts. It is absolutely, completely, remarkably, stunning. The real genius though is how Modell keeps all of these tracks interesting and exciting over 15 minutes without doing anything that drastically changes or upsets their structure. This, of course, is a must if you’re making good dub techno, but Modell is a master. My favourite is probably ‘Lantern Part 3’, but I honestly don’t believe it’s worth trying to walk through each individual track. I’m already running out of synonyms for the word ‘gentle’, and there are only so many aquatic, atmospheric, and naturalistic similes one can use before they become tenuous. This LP transcends words, images, language, and rational description. It simultaneously amazes and boggles the mind. Put as simply as possible, there are no words to describe how good it is.
My advice is therefore this. First, and foremost, sell your house; children; soul; whatever it takes to raise enough money to buy this LP. Then, find somewhere quiet and peaceful; not necessarily outside – a quiet room will do – close your eyes, put on some good headphones, then put this on the turntable. You will find yourself astonished; flabbergasted; astounded; but at the same time mellow and soothed. The hour will pass in a flash but also somehow at a crawl. You will emerge, hopefully, feeling the same as I do; you’ll have no words for what you have just experienced, but you’ll nonetheless know that it was extraordinarily special.
Review: Matthew Scott