Norken + Deer :: Micro Don Juan (Hydrogen Dukebox)

Micro Don Juan might be an IDM record of the old school, but Norris was never one to follow the crowd. It might not break any boundaries, but when an album is as brilliantly produced and gleefully playful as this, it really doesn’t need to be. Sublime.

Norken & Deer ‘Micro Don Juan’

[Release page] Aside from an extensive retrospective compilation of Metamatics and Norken works released by Hydrogen Dukebox in 2007, we’ve heard nothing from the good Mr. Lee Norris—founder of the influential Neo Ouija imprint—since Our Memories Of Winter, a Norken album released on Combination Records that flew completely under the radar. Listening to it again now, it seems downright creepy in places and it’s clear that there was something lacking in that record, a trademark warmth and quirkiness that made other Metamatics and Norken albums so delightful.

Returning to his ancestral home at Hydrogen Dukebox, Micro Don Juan is his first new material since and sees a return to form that’s a veritable tour-de-force of creativity and inspiration. Now, you’ll have noticed that this album is not strictly speaking a Norken album, and Deer is one Martin Hirsch, who took over the running of the Neo Ouija label after Lee closed its doors. Not to diminish his contribution in any way—indeed the blurb that accompanies Micro Don Juan implies that Deer was mainly involved in the production and mixing stages rather than the writing—but this nevertheless feels very much like a Norken album, even if it is Norken v2.0. It fuses the warm, housey elements of Norken with the dry, crisp and experimental edginess of Metamatics to stunning effect, a sign perhaps that Lee has missed recording in those intervening years.

To give Deer full credit, the production has a polish and attention to detail one normally associates with big name artists and their commensurately huge recording budgets. It is absolutely immaculate. “Don’t Feel Her Now” simply bursts with creative production, the stomping beats and crisp percussion are rendered with true high-definition precision, whilst the misty ambient undertones sigh with a richly atmospheric Xela/Yasume-like tranquility that’s easily up there with classics like “Southern Soul.” Norris allows a touch of sunrise-bathed beach after-party nostalgia to ripple through the mix via the plucked strings and hazy ambience of “Remember That Feeling,” and a two-step beat works its way effortlessly into Metamatics style catherine-wheel fx and streaks of synths on “Bitola Ola.”

Micro Don Juan occasionally slackens pace to engage in slower but more complex IDM noodles like the rather incidental “Migrating Deserts” or the loungey “Micro Castanada” but it never loses the power to surprise. The leftfield dizziness of “3cielo Simplified” manages to take several snatches of sampled spoken word and turned them into an actively catchy and instantly memorable almost-chorus in a way that rivals past sample masters like The Orb or The Future Sound of London and “Rewire Your Thoughts” goes retro and heads straight for the dancefloor with stripped-down percussion and sheets of brushed aluminum synths.

One of the few elements of Micro Don Juan that simply doesn’t work are the vocals on “Shoot The Sun.” It’s a nice idea and there’s nothing melodically wrong, but Kayela’s falsetto simply isn’t strong enough to feature so prominently against the minimal backdrop of chimes/reverse chimes, clicks, pops and what sounds like a distant burglar alarm. That said, it’s still essential listening thanks to a stunning second half where, after a moody key change, the piece turns melancholy and introspective, as a plaintive guitar weeps across old-school bleeps and muted vocal samples reminiscent of the shock tactics of the KLF’s constantly mood-shifting The White Room.

Micro Don Juan might be an IDM record of the old school, but Norris was never one to follow the crowd. It might not break any boundaries, but when an album is as brilliantly produced and gleefully playful as this, it really doesn’t need to be. Sublime.

Micro Don Juan is available on Hydrogen Dukebox. [Release page]

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