In the Nineties, Mike Paradinas was probably best known for pioneering leftfield techno under his μ-Ziq moniker, helping to shape the course of IDM alongside contemporaries Autechre and Aphex Twin. But the last few years have seen him mostly shun recording to focus on his day job as boss of Planet Mu; firmly establishing it as one of electronica's most consistent and forward thinking labels. Recently, though, he's inched back into the spotlight: last year there was both a μ-Ziq retrospective and a new record, Chewed Corners and most surprising of all, Heterotic's debut LP, Love & Devotion.
Bittersweet and disquieting, that album saw him collaborating with his wife Lara Rix-Martin and Warp's melancholic alt.folk vocalist Gravenhurst; the outcome was a discordant and intimate electronic-pop hybrid. A slim volume of songs that - it now appears - was originally intended to be longer, as Paradinas explained in an interview with FACT: '...we actually had to start writing tracks with another singer because Nick (Talbot) was really slow. Then we tried to bring the two together but they weren’t working...So we decided to split the album in two.'
It's the second half of that split which forms the basis of Weird Drift and if you've already heard single 'Rain', you'll have noticed the tonal shift from their debut. Gone are Gravenhurst's pronounced folk influences, in favour of spellbinding falsettos, pensive bleeps and synths weighted like crushed silk. It's a mood that echoes across the album and whilst it's not a total sea change - holding a commonality to its predecessor in the throbbing dystopia that haunts 'Self Importance' and 'Boxes' - this is an album that mostly brims with progression.
The real revelation here are the newly recruited vocals of Planet Mu labelmate Vezelay (AKA Matthieu Le Berre), whose contributions ache with hesitant grace. He bridges Heterotic's pop/electro divide; equally at home nestled amongst breathless celestial trance ('Florence'), Eighties arpeggiated synth odysseys ('Triumph') or wafting over sexy tranquillised Motown ('Shoe Soul'). His lyrics - often indecipherable - will reveal themselves if you strain to hear, but it's their inherent passion rather than semantics that fuel the engine of these songs; expressionist waves of sound assembled from layers of tenderness.
Even songs which should feel claustrophobic find a home for his featherlite touch: "Have mercy" he pleas on 'Lumber', over the muted industrial burbles and serpentine melodies that transpose vocals into delay drenched chants; Le Berre elevating the tone from sombre to sublime. While 'Empires' - as close to a breathless anthem as you'll find here (and curiously echoing U2's 'Where The Streets Have No Name') - builds foundations in choral synths and clamorous ambience; only to culminate in a hypnotic crescendo where singer and song beguile in equal measure.
It's this same lustre that - for the most part - follows into the pure instrumentals; clustering together in couplets for buoyancy. At their best - as on 'Liverpool' and 'Sultana' - they sound like the daydream of Eighties pop: the former all avuncular Rhodes organs and ebbing synths, the latter quivering with the cool twinkle of arpeggiated keys. Of course it doesn't always gel and - on the LP's most forced moment - 'Foghorn's low astral funk rubs uneasily against the crystalline ambiance of 'Amniotic'; both tracks may be fine in isolation but jar by association, momentarily disconnecting you from the otherwise blanket reverie.
This small misstep aside, Weird Drift explores the deeper potential of Heterotic's sound with sublime results. Vezelay's sensual poetics melding into Rix-Martin and Paradinas' lush electronica on an album of retro-futuristic pop that improves with each spin and shimmers bright with widescreen radiance.
8Tom Fenwick's Score