- Top 100
June 4, 2012
As half of Thunderheist (with Isis Salam), Graham Douglas Bertie brought blistering ghetto-dance bass to the masses in a brief coruscation that saw Jerk It break out into dance-floor dominance, garnered them tons of media attention, got them nominated for a Juno in 2010—and split shortly after.
Two years later, Graham Douglas Bertie is signed to Turbo, recording as Nautiluss, and his latest EP Alpha takes all the raw energy of Thunderheist and a new hard-edged skepticism to a raw, heady, industrial techno sound.
Metronymic and mesmerizing Alpha is a four track release full of driving and sometimes sexy techno, with just enough wonk thrown in to put it over the edge. Tracks drop in and out with stripped back beats—rhythm set pieces primed for action—and unfold into streams of relentless compressed electro-drums. Occasional riffs break free as stand out, four or five ‘note’ gems that enrich long taut strands of dense syncopation.
Alpha seems like an apt name for the album, not so much in the sense that things seem or are unfinished, but in the raw quality—the sound is distinctly Canuck, echoing vacant space and cold wintery landscapes—but also full of polyglot soundscapes that snatch bits of U.K. underground gimmickry and whisper about French techno and especially the Berlin scene. It’s not grime, or dub, or trance—but tracks like Spidercrawl, walk up and down these other genres, tracking back influences into a techno-bass matrix.
And on the whole, there is something fractal, almost paint by numbers or Mondrian about the album. Soundscapes are broken down and exploded in a way that might strike the listener as pieced or pauce depending on their inclination. But, as each track unfolds, something rises.
Mixed Numbers, opens with a funk beat that’s been treated like astronaut ice cream, compressed and wrung into an essential framework, a strange new taste that tantalizes familiar senses, all the while resisting comprehension. A vocal sample relentlessly exhorts us to ‘solve it,’ but as we are drawn deeper into a fractal, prime number, if not primal world, reconciliation occurs without our intervention. It’s sweet math-machine music that rises and converges from disparity.
It’s not sparse minimalism that makes the album unique, but it is the way substantive things are set out one after another, often unadorned, and left to recombine of their own devices. Sabbath for example sports a waveform that looks like a child’s drawing of downtown, one block after another of rectilinearity—but in fact is a series of constructs that riff over and over on the same essential theme, driving home a techno-scape of hammer strikes, bleeping heart beats and computer error sounds that sounds like every wonder of urbanity at 10,000 bpm.
Meanwhile, Cloud City is perhaps my favourite cut on the album, mirroring the same framework with a chord-driven midrange ‘bass-line,’ stringy synths coming in like rays of sunshine through a palimpsest of skyscrapers, clouds and trees to drive the track along. Hi-hats, fuzz and square synths, it hints at a way-back hip-hop inclination that’s all about west-coast disco-influenced groove. It’s sweet and a little sultry, but the beat and the pulse of the track are absolutely relentless. It’s a brilliant evocation of new feeling from familiar motifs made strange, where high house breaks and grimy waves collide—and dancing is inevitable.
Released on April 30, Alpha is available on Beatport, iTunes and elsewhere.
Want more Canada? Check out my review of Alicia Hush’s Macromineral EP here.