Leaving home often leads to a thorough contemplation of it. Even in a new place, memories of home seem to become paradoxically fortified and subsequently pored over. The memory of a specific stretch of coastal ex-naval base land in Providence, Rhode Island – the home and hub of DJ Richard and his White Material cohorts – is the conceptual essence underpinning Richard’s first LP, an outing on Carsten Jost’s minimalist lynchpin Dial. It’s a place which has evidently left quite an impression.
Two small but prominent areas which make up some of this land and add significantly to Richard’s depiction - Rose Island and Gould Island - are billed in the press blurb as a metaphorical mirror for human isolation, flanked as they are by ocean and littered with abandoned military facilities. With Richard recently upping sticks and settling in Berlin, it’s fair to estimate that this is a concept invested with autobiographical experience rather than purely imaginative nous.
Still, whereas a lot of conceptually focused full lengths from techno and house producers and the themes they outline can begin and end with artfully constructed press material, Richard keeps the vague but compelling sense of a narrative, and a focalized trajectory of mood, consistently threaded. This narrative is often surprisingly and disarmingly emotive.
That said, there are vicious, underlying touches alongside such palatable moments, with indeterminate steelwork sparks emitted during ‘No Balance’ and distant firework wails intermittently speeding by on ‘Nighthawk’. They subtly betray Richard’s origins in Providence’s noise and experimental scenes whilst invigorating the lushness with bite and unpredictability. Yet as things progress the overarching sound edges closer to the muted, ruminative palette of Richard’s new Dial label mates rather than the predominantly rough and ready feel of White Material’s ‘working man’s techno’ and Richard’s occasionally experimental inclinations.
‘Waiting for The Green Flash’ continues with the scene-setting work of the intro, and namechecks the natural phenomenon famously and poetically explored in Eric Rohmer’s ‘The Green Ray’, a film which beautifully captures a lost protagonist crippled by indecision and loneliness who eventually witnesses the optical spectacle. It feels like an appropriate film to mention, not only for the occurrence it describes but for the themes Richard is concerned with. As for its sound, it’s something of a preparation for what follows; a ceremony of dying clamours evoking the bygone production lines situated on Rose and Gould island, or indeed any post-industrial landscape.
‘Savage Coast’ and ‘Screes of Grey Craig’ then, feel like the centrepieces of the album. Ratcheted up with delirious dread, this is where all the thematic uncertainty is confronted or at least more intensely distilled. It’s rare to hear unease foregrounded to the extent it is here, especially within ostensibly dancefloor momentums, those which usually allow for release. Here there’s very little respite. Despite their power, as single entities it’s unlikely that they’ll inspire much enthusiasm, but as parts of a greater whole, they’re essential; an impasse of panic before lighter hues begin to creep through on ‘Bane’.
The cavernous, eddying textures of ‘I-Mir’ - a kind of grand ambient rave elegy - and the sonorous, droning arrest of ‘Ejected’ follow, revealing an admirable tendency for pronounced drama through sparse means and effectively setting the stage for ‘Vampire Dub’; a graceful, gorgeous finale that feels like hard won redemption after all the darker shades of uncertainty. Its testament to how cannily sequenced the album is, that the bigger, defining moments exhibited at this stage don’t feel flat or forced but necessary and exact.
Such sequential coherence differentiates this from your archetypal ‘techno full length’, and gradually accommodates a sense of tentative triumph, even with melancholia determining Grind’s identity. In the process of deliberating isolation in the wake of leaving home, Richard seems to have found another one in Dial, fitting neatly into their estimable roster, with an album at once imposing and poignant. Grind is an open and frank affair which touches on history, memory, and nature, adopting them as thematic cues for personal upheaval. In doing so Richard brings forth an introspective strain of techno which transcends functionality and confronts modern flux.
Grind is out on 4th September via Dial Records.