Techno albums are hard things to get right. Individually techno songs are hi-speed visceral things of beauty. They have the power to make you dance, and in some cases, change the way you see the world. However an album full of skittering breakbeats and raging basslines can feel like too much. London based producer Mike Neaves doesn’t have this problem. Since 2008 Neaves has released a slew of albums and EPs that mix drum machines, pianos, Wurlitzers and field recordings to create something forward thinking. Imagine CJ Bolland reworking Pierre Schaffer’s musique concrete compositions, but with an ear on the dancefloor and you’re on the right tracks.
On new album ‘Black Sauce’ Neaves manages to find the right balance between raging bangers and subtle melodic experimentations. It is his most cohesive, immediate and enjoyable release to date, and that’s saying something. On the surface the songs have a one dimensional feels, but after a few listens you realise that just below the surface is where the power of the album is and there is plenty going on.
‘Theme From Black Sauce’ opens the album. Hypnotic and lenitive loops kick things off. It’s a gentle slow burn, but around the halfway mark things start to get interesting. Firstly it sounds like your speakers are dying, slowly being eroded from the inside. At first you check you headphones/speaker connections, but you instantly realise that everything is fine. This is what Neaves wants you to do. In the final two minutes, everything starts to come into focus and clarity it returned. Huge swaths of brooding synths wash over you and you realise that this might not be your average techno album.
‘Green Sauce’ amps the tension with abrasive breakbeats and vocals to create something that works well in a darkened small room as it does on a commute home. Euphoria seems from the speakers. It’s infectious. You want more, but luckily there is plenty more where this came from. Instead of gently fading out ‘Green Sauce’ flows into ‘Meanwood’ effortlessly. The abrasive nature of ‘Green Sauce’ is still there, but the tempo feels slightly quicker. The beats skitter at breakneck speed while ethereal synths float like mist, or dry ice, above it all.
The star of the show is ‘The Awkward Plates’. From the outset the beats are frenetic and fevered. There is an Amiga 8-bit sound to it, like it was sampled from a scrolling beat ‘em up just as the final boss appears. As the battle goes on the tension, and tempo, is ramped up. About halfway through it starts to slow down a bit and vocals enter the mix. As ‘The Awkward Plates’ starts to slow down, the tension is still there due to clever melodies and atmospheric synths. As ‘The Awkward Plates’, and ‘Black Sauce’, eventually fades out you realise that you’ve listened to something that is a hell of a lot of fun and forward thinking.
‘Black Sauce’ is a sublime album filled with wonky techno motifs and a lo-fi charm that is hard to ignore. While it might not be as pristine and hard hitting, as Paranoid London, or as abstract and visceral as Lee Gamble, or as phenomenal and terrifying as Aphex Twin it’s the fact that it isn’t like this that makes it an absolute monster. There are moments on ‘Black Sauce’ that redefine what a techno album not only can be, but should be, in 2019. There is a demented glee to it. At times it feels like Neaves has worked out the formula to create music that he loves and he’s sticking to it.