For fans of electronic music, Photek is one of those artists you feel you should have in your CD collection. The man is one of the acknowledged masters of drum and bass, and his obsessive, bordering on the anal-retentive, production habits are legendary. But for all of his obvious talent and skill, most of the music Photek has made in the past is cold, and, well … dull.
On his newest album, Solaris (Astralwerks), Photek must have gotten the hint. He lightens up a bit on this album and has some fun with the music – easily creating his best and most satisfying album.
The opening song, Terminus, will relieve any fan who thought Photek has moved away from his signature drum-and-bass style. An echoing bass drum starts out the track while snare and high-hats join in and are layered on top. The sound of a jet taking off leads into a warbling synth-line that sounds like the old acid lines from Roland 303 synthesizers. The track serves the purpose all first songs on albums should: it draws you in and makes you want to hear more.
Photek slowly builds up the CD with Junk, one of the more-interesting songs on the album. The sound of something like a saw being flexed lays the beat foundation while the synths lay out something bordering on funky, something not even thought of before on previous Photek albums. The oddest part of the song is the hook, a distorted computer voice shouting out Junk. It sticks in the back of your head; you’ll find it coming out at the oddest times into your thoughts. Odd choice for a hook, but it works.
As Solaris progresses, it sees a shift away from drum and bass and electronica to house and dance stylings. A real stylistic change in Photek’s work is apparent in songs like Glamourama and Mine To Give. Glamourama is a very minimalistic song with barely-there vocals and a light synthesizer accompaniment and more touches and effects than melody. But the 4-on-the-floor beat will be instantly familiar to any club kid and shows there’s a pulse here after all.
Mine to Give is one of the best songs on the album and could easily fit into a DJ’s set. It’s a perfect disco-house track with a male diva that sounds close to Prince singing over a house beat and synth sounds that would have been cutting edge … in the early days of Detroit techno in the ’80s. The retro sound though isn’t a drawback but a strength here, and this is definitely a track that’ll get you wanting to move.
Long-time fans of Photek may fear that he’s sold out on Solaris. They can rest assured, he hasn’t made a dumb techno album in the vein of Fatboy Slim. In fact, while the album does have more warmth and energy than his previous releases, it still sounds like a starting point and that he isn’t completely comfortable with this new direction.
Hopefully he will get over this fear and keeps developing this more danceable and accessible sound. Photek’s talent has always been apparent, it’s just nice that he has realized sometimes, as Mary Poppins put it, a little sugar does make the medicine go down.