Sketches is an album possessed of a refinement, restraint and nuance rarely found these days, and contains some of the finest and most evocative music about cities released in a good long while.
Where has Sketches been all my life, and why has it been eleven years between the release of Aroy Dee’s debut EP and his debut LP? Oh, wait yeah, that would be because Dutch DJ and producer Steven Brunsmann actually set up and runs the Amsterdam-based M>O>S Recordings and sub-label MOS Deep in addition to his regular job as an architect. Between then and now Aroy Dee has released a number of solo and split EP’s, all of them a paeon to that unmistakably Dutch take on house, techno and electro.
Which is great and all, but there’s a certain weight, authority and presence that a strong, critically acclaimed debut album release lends to an artist, and Sketches turns out to be an absolute diamond. Perhaps this isn’t all that surprising when you learn that Sketches is the result of a good two years of writing and production by an artist firmly entrenched at the heart of the Netherlands scene with a passion and affinity for architecture, something which frequently informs the finest and most atmospheric techno and house music out there.
Sticking to a traditional ten tracks but with a healthy running time of fifty-four minutes, Sketches is one of the most beautifully paced and timed albums I’ve had the pleasure of hearing in some time. It’s not short on atmosphere either, as the tremulous warble of the first sketch, “Night Sky” paints a vivid picture of a hot, crowded city full of commuters swarming from building to subway to train.
There’s a highly strung tension in “Decay” that manifests itself through vibrato synths, skittering beats and room-shaking sub-bass beat, whereas the sublime “Blossom,” “Afterlife” or “Pure” are warm but angular enough to exude perfectly the conflicting feelings of belonging and detachment evoked by movement through favorite haunts, claustrophobic, bustling streets, crowded squares and familiar but alienating skyscrapers.
Another trap that Aroy Dee neatly sidesteps with Sketches is the issue of appealing only to ageing nostalgia freaks. The nostalgia factor is still there in spades, and there are times when one is transported back to the early nineties when Delsin and M>O>S were in their early ascendance, but it is simultaneously vital and fresh.
Beautiful cymbals are peppered across the the blossoming electro of “Until The Music Dies,” while nothing but a muted kick drum accompanies the thick heat-haze of swelling synths and pads in the midnight-blue of “Descent.” And Sketches delivers a final, atmospherically devastating blow with “Dust,” a futuristic vibe similar to the weirdest moments on The Connection Machine’s Painless filtering into every corner of the piece, from the bubbling bleeps through loping kicks to the heady, ambient drones.
The packaging of Sketches is a true labour of love, and if you can still track down a copy of the first vinly edition pressing you will find it well worth the effort. Presented in an extremely high-quality, 7mm-spined heavyweight gatefold sleeve, it presents the album on stunning white marbled vinyl and includes a 36-page booklet full of additional sketches of vistas from Brunsmann’s travels around the globe. Stunning.
Put simply, Sketches is an album possessed of a refinement, restraint and nuance rarely found these days, and contains some of the finest and most evocative music about cities released in a good long while.
Sketches is available on M>O>S Recordings.