A Dusted Review – Solens Arc by Kangding Ray (February 24th, 2014)

In the nearly 15 years since its inception in 1999, Raster-Noton has become a byword (or two) for minimal techno, glitch and experimental electronica. Kangding Ray’s fourth album for the label occasionally borrows from the former, but is otherwise a remarkably warm and straight-ahead electronic album pitched somewhere between dub step and the Chain Reaction stable. It’s miles from albums like Alva Noto’s data-squelching minimalist epics Unitxt and univrs, Emptyset’s harsh brutalism or Ryoji Ikeda’s gristly post-techno. It demonstrates the wide scope of modern European electronica, especially in Germany, where the boundaries of genre and style seem to be crumbling, releasing a myriad possibilities.

As the album’s title suggests, Solens Arc follows a clear progression a trajectory of sorts, coming across as a live show recreated in the studio. Opener “Serendipity March” bears some traces of an earlier Ray (né David Letellier) collaboration with Australian noise/electronic artist Ben Frost, with deep, shuddering bass lines and sombre waves of synth shifting over plodding kicks. It’s swiftly followed by a beat-less 25-second interlude, a leitmotiv pattern that recurs throughout Solens Arc, each lengthy track followed by ambient drones that Brian Eno would approve of. Although none is particularly striking, these segues prevent the variegated tracks that form the album’s core from becoming distractingly eclectic.

If Solens Arc is a representation of Ray’s live shows, then I can only recommend you catch him when he’s next in town. “Evento” blasts relentless groovy minimal techno, falling somewhere between The Field and Porter Ricks, its repeated snare snaps propelling a haze of lush synthesizer patterns and hypnotic muted bass. “Blank Empire” resembles post-dubstep Londoners like Zomby, Actress and the recent Burial EPs. Even more intensely brooding is ‘Amber Decay’, on which Ray lays down pulsating deep grooves amid a storm of crackle and hiss, bringing to mind Raime’s bleak industrial soundscapes. “History of Obscurity’”’s see-sawing synth line feels practically disco, although allied to grimly monotonous beats and drenched in reverberating levels of echo.

By casting his net so wide, Kangding Ray’s diverse craftsmanship occasionally causes Solens Arc to meander aimlessly, the segues failing to cover over the jarring shifts in style. But when Ray hits the nail full square, he produces some of the most lushly-crafted and infectious dubstep/IDM/minimal techno (label it as you prefer) I’ve heard in a good while. As a listening experience, Solens Arc feels uneven, but in a club it must bloody well rock.

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