We Are Monster

(Playhouse; 2005)

By Amir Nezar | 9 October 2007

When I first started listening to electronic music of any kind, years ago, my introduction to it involved Paul Oakenfold and his silly Tranceport. I loved it, and generally sought out what experience has turned into the crappiest techno on the planet. Nevertheless, I blasted it in my car and gave contemptuous looks to those playing mere radio music in adjacent vehicles. Gradually, I got into independent-minded music, and the confusing term "IDM" popped up. Intelligent Dance Music. But wasn't Paul Oakenfold IDM? It was then that the first taste and encroaching deluge of IDM (via Christian Fennesz, O'Rourke, Hrvatski, Squarepusher, etc.) came. Every noted laptop composer out there, I tried to get my hands on.

But throughout all that exploration I was always bothered by that term, because no one could really fool you that this was dance music. It was mostly interesting laptop innovation, some of it brilliant, some of it not. And yet the kind of music (music you could dance to) to which the term IDM ought to have really applied (Out Hud or The Soft Pink Truth, for example) was called electro, or electro-funk, or any number of other labels which were used not as descriptors, but misleading genre signifiers. In reality, Out Hud, Ellen Allien, The SPT --- these were the real IDM artists.

Joining them in their elevated ranks is Isolée, whose We Are Monster is likely the first above-par, truly IDM album this year. Working with full, nice house grooves, and creating more than enough developing details in each of the album's ten tracks, Rajko Muller has crafted (and I mean crafted) a set that hits the genre-bullseye with plenty of skill. If it's not a truly inspiring album, it's nevertheless undeniably impressive.

The album is driven by Rajko Muller's healthy wariness of rote loop repetition, the familiar foundational fault in so many albums of this ilk. Few bars of his intricate mixing repeat themselves; "Pictureloved" wastes no time in accelerating its momentum with intensifying, variegated synthetic tweaks and swells. "Do Re Mi" may keep its initial processed guitar plucks constant, but quickly switches looping feet into a smartly unpredictable (yet not a chaotic) dance of interacting melodic synth elements, creating a fragmentary but focused whole. More generally, Muller never feels like he's just passing time or preparing for several bars at a time for a key development; every new moment of each song pushes it into developing territories of sound that are arresting precisely because they're ever-changing.

Muller extends his ambitious gamut of tweaks and subtle shifts to his beats; "Face B" almost unnoticeably goes through several permutations and alterations of its base house beat before you realize precisely how adaptive it is. From snare beats to hi-hats to bass beats, Muller's percussive progressions are always chock full of detail and light touches. The same goes for his choice in non-percussive elements, which vary from clean synth lines to synth chords to processed guitars to bleeps, glitches and funk plucks.

We Are Monster may not innovate, and at times its generally even tempos may wear on the urgency of its music. But it displays a distinct mastery and intelligence within its IDM genre that easily proves it on par with some of the best of IDM's torchbearers. At times sublime, and always strong, We Are Monster isn't quick to blow your mind. But its slow-burning drive and internal complexity will slowly deepen its grooves in your brain, and strengthen its hold on your ears. It's a worthwhile testament to the continuing possibilities for dynamism in its genre - a reminder that not only is IDM not dead, but that deep below the surface of music's outward face, IDM having a (real) dance party you ought to know about.