Niels Luinenburg aka Delta Funktionen has released some fine techno EPs over the past few years, adding a discernible layer of emotion to the sometimes stern Berghain sound, like the hard rind of a mature Gouda. And as that cheesy simile may imply, he’s Dutch, meaning that, under the strict education laws of the Netherlands, he was forced as a child to listen to the pick of Rimini, Chicago and Detroit for hours on end, absorbing their arcane lessons as well as the most knowledgeable record shop employee (he was that too).
All of which bodes well for Traces, his debut album formed in the same timeframe as those EPs. It doesn’t disappoint, building from languid, through frantic to contemplative over nine tracks with a full spectrum of on-point influences. The only caveat may be a tendency to occasional over-familiarity.
Opening track “Frozen Land” is a sparkling electro number that recalls the cover of well-thumbed library sci-fi novels, a blue-skinned humanoid shielding his eyes while staring into the double sun hovering above the horizon of a desert planet: superb, of course. “Enter” is a more acidic, Viewlexx variant of the same sound, the breakup song for cyborgs.
Things kick up a gear with “Utopia”, as the combination of mind-blowing bassline and jacking 808 cry out for a sweat-stained basement while synth washes aspire to something more cerebral. “Redemption” pounds harder, colder and more industrial but doesn’t lose a core of forlorn, laser-guided hope.
You would have to really work to draw similar feeling from the jackhammer start of “Target”, but unexpectedly it drops into a swirling, organic tumult before diving back in with a big-room Mills-in-space feel. It’s a trick repeated less successfully in “And If You Know” which first distorts the kicks even further into teeth-grinding territory until atonal grunts resolve into the title, over an acid riff with perhaps only the (oddly low) BPM separating it from squat party territory to these ears.
It’s a disconcerting jolt to move from that to the gentle, genteel electro of “Challenger”, and I’m not sure it totally works, with the incoming track rapidly sliding into inoffensive background music. The following transitions more than make up for it though, firstly into “Onkalo”, a quality slice of analogue disco in the Alden Tyrell vein, then into the epic final trip of “On A Distant Journey”. This is ten minutes of genre-bending brilliance, starting and ending as the brooding, bittersweet Italo soundtrack to the collapse of a black hole, while shifting in the mid-section into a bleepy warehouse homage. Truly fantastic, and a microcosm of the album: expertly produced, literate electronic music wearing its influences lightly with exceptional end results.