Franck Kartell :: Alaska (Bass Agenda)

The LP toys with the parameters of electro, layering in shades of electronica and IDM. Beats are present but shrouded in stark shadow, blurred in the low light of the northern plains. A record of ambitious proportions and sublime execution.

Electro has always been a “distant” or “otherworldly” sound. Kraftwerk saw it as the music of the future, a clean style glazed with mechanical rhythms, ensnaring synthlines and social awareness. The idea of the human realm has been all but removed, the snap and recoil of metal pursued by contemporary labels like Cultivated Electronics keeps that idea of distance. Likewise, musicians like E.R.P. or Versalife explore astral tracts with a depth of isolation that seems to remove all notion of flesh. Drexciya even created their own underwater history for their alternate narrative. Franck Kartell keeps with this tradition. The French artist did so with his sci-fi inspired La Jetée d’Orly and continues to do so with his latest LP: Alaska.

For this ten tracker the human figure is left out and instead it is the world we inhabit which is examined. Frozen lakes. Dense snow clad forests. The tundra. These are the objects of interest. Titles lend a generous description of what is on offer, “Cercle Arctique”, “Nuit Polaire” and “Cristaux De Glace” give textual form to the frigid landscape explored. An energy and excitement embodies the opening pieces. Cold chords are cut through by slender synthlines, awe and wonder mix evenly in a fleeting warmth as ice sheets audibly crack underfoot. That amazement is plain to hear in the magnetic creaks and celestial strings of “Aurore Boréale.” Danger lurks across the album, heard in unsteady movements and the sheer glacial weight of bass of certain pieces. Others, such as “Tempête Sur La Banquise”, illustrate a different threat, biting rain cascading in chords as bulging winds loom. The LP toys with the parameters of electro, layering in shades of electronica and IDM. Beats are present but shrouded in stark shadow, blurred in the low light of the northern plains. “Unalaska Island” sees temperatures rise. The warmth of verdant bars dawn into soaring strings in masterful work. An arctic chill returns with “L’Enfer Blanc.” Crisp beats shudder while keys are left brilliantly bright as the mercury drops.

Kartell has an album rhythm on Bass Agenda, Alaska being his fourth in as many years. Each of these LPs has explored a different theme with the French machine musician having managed to expand his style and broaden the very palette of electro. Alaska dares to map the physical, dares to give an audio expression to a rugged and untamed wilderness. The collection also touches on the beauty, stillness and vastness of America’s most northern state. Despite this focus on the natural world, the image of man is not totally erased. Primal emotions, fear or joy, come through in the shifts and rises in sound. A record of ambitious proportions and sublime execution.

Alaska is available on Bass Agenda.

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