Review: Chevel – One Month Off

Chevel - One Month Off

It’s been four years since the relatively new producer Chevel released the inaugural EP in Stroboscopic Artefacts’ experimental techno series Monad. Since then Dario Tronchin has distinguished himself for analogue-based, lo-fi music ranging from the quirky, fun, and dancey to chill and spacey atmospherics. Nevertheless, this first release with SA since 2010 doesn’t lose a beat in its commitment to techno music that works at the level of deep introspection to produce captivating arrangements that will challenge some on the dance floor and drive others to terpsichorean ecstasy.

The title, One Month Off, expresses something of my initial response to the EP. I initially read the title as referring to a break from the routine, a time to travel or to relax and think. From start to finish the five tracks come across as a kind of travelogue of a solitary explorer’s journey through some unexplored and some forgotten territories of rhythm and sound. Straight-four beats are rarely to be seen in this landscape. Instead every track is alive at the deep end with hesitating and hypnotic arrangements of relatively simple rhythm lines that interact with one another to produce syncopations that shift and unfold throughout the tracks.

On first listen, I was so certain that Tronchin must be deliberately exploring traditional percussion arrangements from West African and Afro-Cuban traditions that I simply had to ask. He informs me, however, that while these tracks do begin with a conscious intention to leave 4/4 structure behind, the results come from what he describes as deep exploration into rhythmic possibilities at the level of the subconscious with the intention of letting things unfold naturally. That is an apt a place of origin and inspiration for a release that sounds both rooted in ancient earth-bound tradition and born of experimentation into the future sounds of techno.

Track Summaries

The EP’s title track starts things off with the kind of syncopated and halting snare and kick combination that will characterize the whole journey of One Month Off. Claps, bloops, and gnarly sliding bass sounds come and go with an excellent sense of deliberateness and anticipation. Like a driving rain in buffeting wind, the track builds and settles at a steady rate from one direction, then seems to pause, shift its momentum, and come at the listener with renewed intensity from a different angle.

“The Wall” starts by posing another riddle of a heavy, off-beat kick-drum foundation. This is joined by a scintillating arrangement of rough and flanged out high-hat sounds that seem to come off in sharp diagonals from the basic beat. It’s all just for starters though, as a deep bass starts to hit and tunnels deep and long. Again Chevel uses breaks not so much to pause and restart his driving rhythm, as to gather up the elements from which the song is built and recast them in a fresh and interesting configuration.

The third track, “Cave Dwellings,” comes on hard with a barking and biting kick and tom combo that sounds like a reenactment of some joyous prehistoric discovery of basic rhythm. This bedrock sound is soon joined by some simple rimshot and hi-hat patterns that turn the beat into a gyrating thing of sonic excellence before that deep resonant bass starts to hit again. This track comes highly recommended. It rocks. It goes spacey. It goes subterranean. It goes deep in the mind. It is guaranteed to fire the mirror neurons.

The next track, “Marker Shop,” toys with a straight-four kick that quickly dissolves into an ethereal space of high synth, hisses, and drags, before the whole track falls off into the biggest hollow and echoing bass drop yet, reminding this interviewer of the long hits employed by trap producers like Hudson Mohawke and Starkey. This deep and slow hit becomes the foundation for the return of shimmering ether of highs from the start and some wickedly syncopated hi-hats that carry the track to its finish.

The final track, “Viewpoint,” takes the greatest journey of all. It begins with a basic clave beat and a kick on the 1-2-3. All sorts of rough and ragged sliding, bleeping, and clanking sounds build into a surprisingly gentle backdrop, which is then joined by high bell-like synths and woodblock beats. The whole thing somehow opens up like a vista on a beautiful savannah that persists for a time and then slowly and gracefully recedes.

Conclusions

Chevel’s One Month Off is a consistently surprising and unconventional techno exploration. Each track stands on its own, and the EP is surprisingly compelling as a whole. It achieves the combination of ecstatic danceability and deep introspection that is techno at its best.