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Northcore: Desatero

October 31, 2012

I try to avoid playing the “sounds like” game when I’m listening for review, but as I worked my way yet again through Northcore’s Desatero, two reference points wouldn’t leave my head. The first is the smooth and smoky “exotic electronica” that used to flow out of Waveform Records; the second is the snappy, analog-fueled EM currently coming out of the Groove Unlimited label. Add to that a firm dash of world-music flavor and you’ve got the sonic deliciousness that is Desatero. Carl Gibbons and Jana Tillotson man the ever-shifting controls here, kicking it off with the Waveform-ish “Looking Glass.” A rasp, at first like needle on vinyl but then more of footsteps on crisp ice, marks a beginning rhythm. Wispy electronics swirl in mid-air; then comes Tillotson’s voice: “And if the ice breaks under my feet, will you catch me?” With that cue, we shift into a lumbering, almost dubstep-style beat that Gibbons and Tillotson divert with a melody that sounds like a Renaissance folk dance tune, transported to the 21st century and dressed up in electronics. It’s these sorts of little sidetracks that make the difference on Desatero. Check “Nocturne,” with its Middle-Eastern-feeling vocals (pulling memories of Deepfried Toguma from my back-brain) and hand percussion–and then, in a beautiful and sudden shift, crunching in huge, soul-shaking church organ chords that just elevate the call-to-prayer feel of the voice. “Jupiter” gives the nod to the recent lot of good Netherlands-based EM and folds perhaps a touch of Tangerine Dream into the blend. Energetic and spacey, it courses along on a strong sequencer line and bass pulse. This is a high-volume ride that revels in its retro cred. “Green Fridge” falls into an odd IDM-type space, with a rushing wind sound that becomes a repeating musical phrase over a simple, repetitive bass pulse. Grinding, crunching sounds drop into the mix, and the thing takes off at speed. “Quercus” is an odd but effective interruption in the flow, an almost quaint tune mainly on kalimba and flute. The fact that it’s unexpected in the midst of everything else marks it as quite Northcore. For me, there are just two slight misses on Desatero, and they’re both tracks where the duo work in lyric-based vocals–or, more to the point, straightforward English lyrics. These cuts, “Oxygen” and “Parting,” feel weaker than everything else here. The lyrics come off a bit forced, as though Gibbons and Tillotson aren’t quit comfortable with them. It’s a minor consideration on such a strong disc.

This is a very short offering, clocking in at just over 40 minutes. But every moment counts here, and to that end Gibbons and Tillotson absolutely load these pieces with sound. It’s a real feel-good disc that you’ll find yourself turning up the volume on–and coming back to often. This is one of the first releases on Spotted Peccary’s new O3E imprint, and it bodes quite well for both the label and for future works from Northcore.

Available at Spotted Peccary/O3E.

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