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Claro Intelecto - Reform Club


Mark Stewart breathes out techno; that much is clear. The music on Reform Club is shifting, twitchy and intricate, positively alive with detail, almost formless in its serpentine progression. But more than that, it is effortless. Never trying to be too clever, or say too much, the Claro Intelecto ethic is, as it has always been, to act more as a guidance mechanism for sounds that seek their own course, unfurling entirely organically. Everything finds its rightful place. It is consequently incredibly difficult to write about without resorting to a trite journalistic impressionism. The tracks almost defy linguistic response, or at least render one unnecessary, by managing to sound at the same time obvious (of course they should do that! what else could it possibly sound like?) and elusive (wait… what just happened?). Nonetheless, we try.

Part of the reason the album is so difficult to pin down is its looseness, its reliance on blurred edges and fluidity, but one entry point might be to concentrate on the rhythmic solidarity that underpins most of the tracks. Workmanlike and formed from a limited palette of the standard kicks-hats-and-claps layout, it gives the album a solid and familiar core, most exposed on tracks like ‘Control’ and ‘Second Blood’ where the added distraction of strings and drones are ephemeral at best, a fragile veneer. The musicality is always forefront however: the crackle that backdrops the latter track forms part of the heavy sidechain compression of the texture, rather than a cynical layer of distance.

Though gentle imperfections generally remain, these adornments occasionally take on a more weighty character, like that of ancient marble. ‘Night of the Maniac’ and ‘Blind Side’ both give off the stately glow of a techno Acropolis, sacred and unmoving, jaded perhaps, having lived a litany of previous lives, and now content to come to an assured rest in their fading warmth. The incarnation that has dulled the least, however, is a very English one: a memory of the early 90s channeled through the likes of B12 and Mark Broom throbs throughout, particularly in the strings of “Reformed” and “Quiet Life” (which bookend the album) and the ductile bass squelches that litter the intervening tracks.

One of the complaints that might be levelled at Reform Club is that, in its unlaboured formal precision, it could work a little harder to draw the ear in. It is easy to allow the music to glide past without really feeling the need to engage with it: were these tracks released as singles (‘Second Blood’ was, in fact – and suffered accordingly), then they might easily be passed off as merely ‘functional’, perhaps characterless, adrift from the whole of which it is a part. But, while they might benefit from demanding a little more from the listener, the album has an integrity and authority that elevates it beyond a mere collection of tracks.

This is felt most keenly in its more reflective moments, of which ‘Still Here’ is the downright loveliest. Over the opening few minutes, processed piano chords wend a directionless path, scattered with ricochet rimshots and splashing claps; a malnourished and exposed relief that emerges out of soft fleshy bass throbs. When the string section arrives, we liquefy. Delicate and powerful, a weary skeletal form carved from polished ivory, Burial dreams of creating something as crushingly spectral as this. Worryingly, UK techno may have found its requiem.

Toby Bennett


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