The elephant in the room of dance music enthusiasts across the globe is no longer an ignored one. The already severe homogeny of the scene’s most popular sounds is turning into a singular mush, generic big room bangers are relentlessly invading the Beatport top ten, and DJ Mag Top 100—what was once the beacon for dance music talent—has washed up into a contest of big drops and pleas for everybody to, once again, “fucking jump.”
But maybe all hope’s not lost. Deep house duo Dusky recently took down Hardwell for the coveted top spot on Beatport, the world beyond big room is rapidly expanding, and even the crowds’ favorite DJs are disrupting the paradigm. Don’t believe us? Check out main stage mainstay Kaskade’s new album—almost half of it is deep house. Armin van Buuren is returning to his roots with six hour “Armin Only” sets. And, of course, Avicii’s groundbreaking album has redefined what the dance music producer can be.
Enter Gesaffelstein, the extraordinaire whose French New-Wave Techno-Infused assault of sound has most recently caught the ear of the Jesus-in-leather jogging pants Kanye West (He worked on selected Yeezus tracks alongside Kanye and partner in crime, Brodinski). With his new album, Aleph, he may not be making the same kind of waves in the scene as Kaskade or Avicii (he’s always resided in the underground), but he certainly reaffirms the fading belief that ingenuity and innovation are still at the core of electronic music.
For those already steeped in his music, Aleph may be an unwelcome addition to his, until now, singles only catalogue. It isn’t the onslaught of sonic dissonance and grinding bass that he’s developed a reputation for, although the innate spookiness of his sound persists throughout.
Opening with “Out Of Line,” a drum track overlaid with scathing spoken-word vocals, it’s hard to define this album in a framework apart from Yeezus (I mean, come on, look at the album cover for Christ’s sake). The word minimal can’t be ignored. The focus on shock in both is crucial. And, as a friend once described Yeezus, “I’m scared listening to it. But I like it.” Such is Aleph.
With tracks like “Aleph” and “Wall of Memories,” it seems as if he’s scoring a horror film in the year 2100 rather than writing an album. Power is replaced by dark melodies, each note anticipating the next in a perfectly crafted display of sonic control.
And, for the diehards, his signature pounding assaults of noise are present. “Obsession” comes out of what influenced “Belgium,” but with an melodic (if we can call it that) twist of a synth; bleeps and whirrs pervade the driving bass that runs the track. “Duel” puts the formula into overdrive as an overexcited BPM puts a classic sound into Boys Noize territory. The breathy “oohs,” however, ground us in firm Gesaffelstein territory. And “Trans,” a brooding bass heavy track leaves us with our final low frequency onslaught before ending on a rather ambiguous note with “Perfection” (yeah, even Kanye’s ego invades the album).
Of course, there are outliers. “Hellifornia,” a new-wave hip-hop beat that belongs in Atlanta, not France, sounds like Gesaffelstein’s own take of the ever-burgeoning trap scene; although his sounds usually focus on the future, not reinterpretations of the past. The trained ear also hears the same synths he used to set the mood for Kanye & King L’s “Send It Up.” Yeezus, once again, is inescapable. “Destinations” uses the same vocalist as “Out Of Line,” and the result is just as frightening despite the bouncy, nervous synth that frantically plays over the washed out bass so common to Gesaffelstein’s repertoire.
Even with such changes in genre, Aleph represents all that’s good in Gesaffelstein’s stylistic development. Gone are the perfect, round bass drums of trap music; lo-fi drums carry out the beat for Gesaffelstein. (No, your speakers aren’t blown. It just sounds like they are.) The melodies begin ambiguously, but end harmoniously, if not full of the tension that he so loves to create. And, of course, the feeling of fear never leaves you until you put the headphones down. Strange? Yes. But as my friend so wisely said, “You love it.”
Preview the first single, “Pursuit,” below and get the rest on iTunes.