Alan Abrahams has the rare gift, at least in house and techno circles, of making music that sounds like no other. As Portable or Bodycode, his sound is instantly recognizable. A unique and often thrilling fusion that embraces 80’s Chicago, 90’s rave and 00’s clicks ‘n’ cuts, Abrahams’ albums have nonetheless often struggled to produce the adrenaline rush that accompanies his jackhammer live show (ably documented in LWE Podcast 22). Indeed, having such an individual signature sound brings its own problems; once you’ve heard one track, you may feel you’ve heard them all. Familiarity breeds contempt, and his last album as Bodycode, The Conservation Of Electric Charge, and as Portable with Powers Of Ten, both sounded uncharacteristically flat. Abrahams’ solution to this malaise was to take to the microphone, and reinvent himself as a latter-day Jamie Principle. The move obviously worked, as last summer brought the veritable smash “Release” on Perlon, followed by the similarly provocative “The Emerald Life” for Musik Krause. Both were released under his nominally less floor-orientated Portable alias (tell that to the people dancing), but evidently the introduction of vocals has also reinvigorated his Bodycode moniker, as Immune is the finest record of his career.
A word of warning to the uninitiated: Abrahams is not your average diva; his sung-spoke vocals can be an acquired taste, and may have a polarizing effect on many listeners. Sometimes they’re buried deep in the mix, sometimes they’re front and centre. Love them or loathe them, they bring a sense of order and direction to a sound that previously had occasionally sounded cluttered, as chattering percussion, glitches, battered ethnic instruments and clipped rave stabs pile into each other. In particular, Lerato Khathi (well known to discerning Londoners as the woman behind the Süd Electronic parties and Uzuri label) adds a neat hook to single “What Did You Say” with her accusatory refrain, “How can you say you’d live without me? How can you say you wanna leave me?” “Imitation Lover” is another standout, with an endlessly mutating synth riff that clings to the “No, no, no!” refrain like ivy climbing a tree.
What’s wonderful about Abrahams’ music is that you can really hear that it is a product of his personal histories, geographies, and philosophies. The debut Portable album, Cycling, was named after freewheeling around London, and Abrahams’ South African roots have always shown through. Immune is soaked with the experience of leaving London to live in Lisbon, and then Berlin, as his recent interview with Textura reveals. Intricate opener “Meaning and Memory” is an obvious example, while “Subspace Radio” samples the white noise of the waves at Abrahams’ favourite Lisbon beach Praia da Ursa, in the process rivaling Jan Jelinek’s best work. “Arigato” chops up a Japanese airport announcement heard whilst on tour, and blends it into a beautiful deep house track, not too dissimilar to the recent remix of Oleg Poliakov’s “Rainy Dayz”. Closing track “Immune” works both sonically as a manifesto for his sound, all syncopation and intricate jack, and lyrically as a summation of his peripatetic lifestyle and musical reinvention: “Nothing is immune to change.” Sing it, brother.