Send me your track


Jeff Mills - The Power

Axis Records


There was always something rather charming about the pseudo-philosophical claptrap that Jeff Mills used to write on his records. It may not have made sense to the average person buying them, but who cared when the music was superb?

Track titles such as “Gateway to Zen”, “Humana” and the wonderful “Condor to Mallorca” offset the mysterious sonic worlds that Mills summoned with some powerful imagery. Then, at the height of his musical powers, with “At First Sight” and “Metropolis” back in the earlier part of the last decade, that writing began to fade from the records. Mills stripped back the written concept and instead concentrated on unifying them thematically with the music he was making. These were his best albums, featuring some superb, textured techno.

The Power continues the “Sleeper Wakes/Contact” saga that Mills unveiled some time ago. To be honest, it seems as if no one apart from him really knows what’s going on with these new concepts, apart from the fact that he’s obviously concerned a great deal with space. You can read a 16 page story that he’s written with the album, but we’re here for ze techno and as you might imagine, it’s dark, ambiguous and at times, utterly thrilling.  “Microbe” is all chimes and cymbal rides, composed with mature élan and I suspect probably in about 30 minutes – so often have we seen him produce a track like this that he could do it with his eyes closed. The odd flash of hi-hat gives the track that element of urgency that so many other techno producers fail to master. 

There’s a strong sonic blueprint at work here; crystal-sharp synths playing off against deep swells of bass and 909 kickdrums. It’s a very simple but effective set of sounds that he keeps to, mastering frequencies rather than testing the water with new ones. The album’s best track – “A race to save our thoughts” combines these elements in a truly cosmic manner, as droplets of sound cascade around sustained strings, making it sound as if it wouldn’t be out of place in 2001, with all due deference to Ligeti.  “Hallucinations” is even more psychedelic, throbbing with a slow intensity.

The middle section of the album is ambient and surprisingly experimental.  Mills veers into Japanese Noise/Mika Vainio territory with the scratchy hiss of “Memory Reset” and “Spiral Therapy”.  However, like a story that doesn’t have a twist, The Power drifts away disappointingly with a sequence of rhythmic tracks that deflate the momentum unnecessarily. “The Transformation” is the best of the lot, but apart from the signature faint eruptions of atmosphere, it’s a frustrating end to the album, if only because one might expect him at some point to end with something more dramatic.  Restraint rather than those glorious moments of untrammelled sound of yore seems to be the aesthetic he prefers now.

Mills has mastered a particular sound and theme in techno that is his alone, which in this saturated era is an accomplishment. It is enjoyable to see at least one Detroit techno artist still furthering the futurism that the genre was born in all those years ago. With age, it’s to be expected that the raw, unbridled energy of those machines from the 90’s would mellow and whilst The Power hints at a darker groove, it lacks the magical spark that laces his older records. 

Toby Frith 


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