Function / Vatican Shadow :: Games Have Rules (Hospital Productions)

With Games Have Fules, Function and Vatican Shadow have worked together to create a breathtakingly atmospheric and surprisingly ambient electronic album unique in both their catalogs.

Despite Dominick Fernow’s latest Vatican Shadow release—the mammoth six cassette/digital-only release Death Is Unity With God—being a strangely strangled and muted affair, it was difficult to predict the content of this latest release, a collaboration with New York’s David Sumner under his Function guise.

Games Have Rules teases out the detailed mise-en-scene, cinematic scope and dramatic melodic loops that made Function’s debut album Incubation on Ostgut Ton so compelling, but leaves behind the reverb and dance-floor aesthetic. It then fuses these with Vatican Shadow’s palpable tension, ear for propulsive rhythms and evocative atmospherics but cuts out the tape loops, files off the gritty edges and polishes the end result to a mirrored finish. The result is a breathtakingly atmospheric and surprisingly ambient electronic album.

“Things Known” and “Things Unknown” feel like early Delsin era electro via The Detroit Escalator Company, the skittish, arrhythmic bass, analogue bleeps, steely pads, occasional static downpour, coils of barely audible voices and the echoing metallic percussion all lending themselves to classic images of neon-lit, blinking future-scapes.

There are murky overtones of John Carpenter’s creepiest work in “The Nemesis Flower” as glutinous, sinewy synth throbs loop over unsettling, organic pops, sinister machine-whir and genuinely chilling, icy melodies that will have you shifting uncomfortably in your seat in moments.

Meanwhile “A Year Has Passed” as plumes of super-heated strings and dreamlike, blood-warm synth washes wrap themselves around you like the softest, most luxurious blanket, before “A Year Has Gone By,” folding in glinting crystalline keys, hi-hats and a stalling, staccato pulse that creates an elusive tension.

The one sticking point on the album is “Red Opium,” which comes right out of left-field with traditional techno elements that feel out of place among the richly atmospheric pieces on display. Thankfully the more tempered “Bejeweled Body” rounds things out on a high as more crystalline pads shimmer in an acid-tinged waterfall of icy techno as Function’s roots really shine through in the production once again.

It might seem a little slight at only seven tracks, but rest assured Games Have Rules is a nicely paced forty-one minutes with not a second of padding in sight. It’s a thing of understated beauty and remarkably rich atmospherics that combines a number of the most compelling qualities of each artist to create something unique in both their catalogs. You really need this.

Games Have Rules is available on Hospital Productions.

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