Before we talk about '2Square', a collaboration between Erasure's Vince Clarke and Orbital's Paul Hartnoll, let's rewind back to the mid-Nineties and the release of Erasure's 'Cowboy' album. Around that time, the humble Clarke was to be found saying that he'd more or less outsourced the rhythm section to Neil McLellan, one of the co-producers of that record.
Since then, slowly but surely, Clarke's interest in rhythm-based music has grown considerably. First came a clutch of minimal techno remixes, then his techno collaboration with Martin Gore, and now '2Square', which weaves in and out of the house music oeuvre like he's been a master all along. “Basically, I've been listening to a lot more rhythm based music,” he says, of discovering and developing a passion for dance music. “With the technology that's now available it's also faster to experiment. If the idea isn't working or grooving then I'll quickly move on and try something else.”
'2Square' is more or less what you might expect from Clarke and Hartnoll in collaboration. There's the classic Clarke synth work, all subtle melodic developments and the detailed layers of squelchy sound that have been the trademark of his musical output for over thirty years. Added to that is Hartnoll's understanding of big house gestures, befitting of an artist who – with Orbital – successfully transported dance music from the rave, to the club, and out into the festival field.
Tracks build, break down, build again more strongly, seeking out an ascendant path through solid rhythmic backbones – the classic house way, in other words. Everything is delivered with a smooth, polished sound; there's little of the feisty minimalism that characterises techno here, just deep grooves and engaging melodies.
'The Shortcut' sees the pair tapping into the same urgent hooks and insistent forward motion that characterised Orbital tracks like 'Remind' and made their body-moving festival shows so compelling. Elsewhere, tracks like 'Zombie Blip' play around with the slick progressive house style perfected back in the day by Spooky, while 'The Echoes' and 'Single Function' have deep, euphoric / melancholic cores that continually reveal themselves as they progress. The pair even dabble with jazzy sliced-up horn riffs on 'Do-A-Bong', working a chunky, soulful sound that's both alien and organic at the same time.
Lead track 'Better Have A Drink To Think' is probably the least representative track on the album, but also the most fun. Aside from potential concerns from drink awareness campaigners, the song – like 'All Out' from later on the album – 'Better Have A Drink To Think' stands out because of its use of classic female soul vocals, the mainstay of house music euphoria since the genre was born thirty years ago. Except that the vocal hook suggesting clarity of thought can be attained at the bottom of a bottle is just a mind trick. “That's all cut-up vocals,” says Clarke. “I was just experimenting with cutting the sounds up. I don't think she actually says that line, but when you hear it so many times, you start imagining words in what you're hearing.”
'2Square' heralds the start of a new chapter for Vince Clarke. The album is being issued by Very Records, his new online-only download label. For those with long enough memories, this isn't Clarke's first foray into running a record label. His last, Reset Records, was an offshoot of RCA that he ran with Yazoo / Assembly production partner Eric Radcliffe. With the next release already in the bag and a desire to explore a more obscure path through electronica, Very Records promises to be a new and exciting direction for this electronic music stalwart.
Better Have A Drink To Think / Zombie Blip / The Echoes / Do-A-Bong / The Shortcut / Single Function / All Out / Underwater
'2Square' is available now as a Digital Download.
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