Review: Drumcell – Sleep Complex

Drumcell - Sleep Complex

After his somewhat recent appearance in I Dream of Wires, there’s no ambiguity about Drumcell’s love for hardware-driven techno. The latest incarnation of this passion is his new album Sleep Complex, soon to be released on vinyl with a gatefold jacket, CD, as well as digitally. To my ears, the album seems largely constructed of carefully thought out modular synth lines, processed and combined digitally with heavy percussive elements in order to achieve a higher standard of mixing precision. Given that Liebing was handed the track elements used to craft the final mix down, it is unsurprising that the album is technically perfect from an EQ’ing and compression perspective (although, I will make the disclaimer that I have only had the chance to listen to the 192kbps promo, so there could be some details I might not have picked up on). There are very few non-electronic sounds in the album (such as a sample of a train rolling down rails with rhythmic regularity, found in the track Frame Shifter.) Other than these small exceptions, the album as a whole has a sort of synthetic purism that lends it a certain alienness. Personally, I am reminded of sci-fi/horror dystopias: zombie-ridden post-apocalyptic cities and things of that nature. And indeed, the embedded video created by the artist himself seems to imply some sort of transformation from man into…well, something else:

But it’s hard to say what the tangible take-away message or idea of the album is, assuming one was intended. While there is a distinct cohesion in the tension imbued in each track, the question has to arise whether the album is about something. The track titles are intentionally vague: Behind You, Mind, Disturbance, Empty. If we examine the content of the tracks, we find a few more clues. The track Dispatch includes samples of a police dispatcher reading physical descriptions of suspects or crimes (“Male Persian, black shirt, blue shorts…black Escalade parked on left”). I’m not sure if the recordings included refer to a specific case, or if these are just assorted samples plucked for ad-hoc use. Undoubtedly the strangest track on the album, Speak Silence features a pitched down and vocoded male voice, loosely reminiscent of the style used in Plastikman’s Ask Yourself. Because of the distortion and layers of synthesizer madness layered on top of the voice, it’s hard to figure out what exactly is being said. But here are the lyrics, as confirmed by Drumcell himself:

“Select your poison, resist your moves;
fight the balance, destroy the roots;
speak your silence, contain its voice;
if you’re the reason, then I’m your choice;
feel the violence, complete it’s touch;
let it slide in, and get your lust.”

This track in particular features screaming synth squeals over a slow marching kick. Despite the experimental choices made in the track and its early appearance in the track list, it feels like the emotional peak of the album.

Continuing our search for answers, we can see that the album art fits the continuing themes that Juan Mendez (Silent Servant) has focused on for other albums like Function’s Incubation and his own Negative Fascination. Although I am a fan of all of Mendez’s visual works, the album art for Sleep Complex can’t really be viewed as a window into understanding this album.

Thus, Sleep Complex remains a mystery. There is enough of a progression of tensions and emotions to make it clear that this album was carefully thought out and is expressing something very dark, and perhaps personal. But we’re left with no real indication of what that something actually is. The album may be the product of Drumcell exercising his demons into sound during long days and nights obsessing over the knobs and wires of a wall of modular synthesizers. In either case, it leaves the listener wanting to listen through it again and again in order to return to the anxious atmosphere Drumcell has crafted, with some hope that this time a resolution will occur or the mystery will be solved. And that’s the thing that has struck me the most about this album – there simply is no resolution. The tension of the album builds quickly during the first two tracks, waxes and wanes during the ten tracks that follow, and then suddenly the album vanishes like a life cut unexpectedly short. There’s no closure. Thankfully, techno is one of the few musical styles where a lack of closure is not a defect. If anything, it proves a ruthless and uncompromising dedication to the craft.

Overall, I would strongly recommend this puzzling album. Although it may drag you through very uncomfortable territories, it does so with rarely rivaled attention to detail and enough sonic diversity to keep you interested. As such, I believe this work is Drumcell’s strongest to date.

To truly support the artist, we advise picking up Sleep Complex on vinyl or CD once it is released later this month.

Altstadt Echo’s chosen selections: Rooted Resentment, Frame Shifter