As with many Venetian Snares enthusiasts, my view of Funk’s discography is one of frustrating as much as appreciation. For every great Venetian Snares record there is another that seems meandering and directionless. Last year’s long-awaited My Love is a Bulldozer sadly fitted into the latter category. On first listen it was exciting, but the fact that I never made it as far as a fourth listen should indicate pretty clearly that the charm wore off. Like a fair few Venetian Snares albums, this was a record that drifted far too much – not through lack of ideas but through lack of restraint. Every time it needed reining in, it veered off unnecessarily. You’ll begin to see, therefore, why the idea of Funk making an album purely using modular synthesizers – the concept of Traditional Synthesizer Music – is an appealing one.
As first impressions go, the immediate perception of Traditional Synthesizer Music is that – much like the new Surgeon record – seems slightly unsure what to do with itself for much of its duration. It starts in barnstorming fashion, with ‘Dreamt Person v3’ and ‘Everything About You is Special’ leading one to believe that Traditional Synthesizer Music is going to represent a perfect blend between the outright insanity of Funk at his most original and the stately brilliance of classic synth exploration. As the tracks roll by, however, this mixture gradually seems to slip from focus. Moments of exhilaration still crop up – the bonkers ‘She Married a Chess Computer Champion in the End’ in particular – but there are also points at which what may be seen as a distinctive Venetian Snares personality is almost completely absent.
What saves the day is the gradual realisation that Funk is actually pretty good at Traditional Synthesizer Music. Whilst it’s delightful to hear him pushing his modules into overdrive on the album highlights, repeated listening reveals that the rest of the record still has a certain charm, even if it lacks the intensity that we come to expect early on. ‘Decembers’ and ‘Health Card10’ have a smooth elegance to them that makes up for what – at first – seems to be their unfulfilled potential. ‘Goose and Gary v2’ emerges as one of the most delightfully accessible tunes Funk has penned to date. Closer ‘Paganism Ratchets’ is subtly addictive, petering out into the ether with (relatively) restrained bursts of activity whilst retaining a certain degree of ambient shimmer. In other words, this is as close as we will ever get to Venetian Snares gone komische… even if such a description is still utterly ludicrous.
There are still some issues. There is the occasional sense that this album settles into its comfort zone at some points. ‘You and Shanya v1’ feels like filler, ‘Anxattack Boss Level19 v3’ like a slight hangover from the album’s first half. The record as a whole also fails to expand its palate as much as one might hope given Funk’s history. Yes, this album does occasionally sound like a deranged genius trying to drive his modulars to an early grave, but despite that you get the impression that it doesn’t explore the potential range of sounds on offer from these devices quite as much as one might hope.
These criticisms do, however, feel slightly churlish, especially given my introduction. Traditional Synthesizer Music is – to these ears at least – the best Venetian Snares album since Filth. It sees Funk demonstrate his (often under-appreciated) mastery of electronic composition through constraints that lead him both to reorient his traditional stylings and to introduce some new tricks into his arsenal. That sense of uncertainty I referred to earlier may, then, be better characterised as restlessness, a restlessness that – as the listens pile up – one realises suits Traditional Synthesizer Music (both the album and the notion) more than anticipated. A welcome return to top form.
8Benjamin Bland's Score